What if you could buy a piece of land in a historic location, like Trafalgar Square or Times Square, and build whatever you wanted on it? Well now you can – at least, in a digital format – thanks to Skolkovo resident Piligrim XXI.

An example of what could appear on Rome's Piazza Venezia using Arcona's technology. Image: Arcona.

Piligrim has launched a new spin-off product, the AR platform Arcona, which provides 3D models of landmark locations that anyone can use as the basis for building augmented reality projects, from interactive installations to games and advertising.

“We launched our own online trading platform, Arcona Marketplace, two weeks ago, and we’ve already sold over 100 plots,” Piligrim’s co-founder and marketing director Diana Sorina told Sk.ru. In the company’s hometown of St. Petersburg, for example, “we’ve sold parts of Palace Square and some of the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island,” she said.

The idea behind Arcona’s technology is that an AR developer anywhere in the world can buy a Digital Land plot thousands of miles away and use it as the setting for their AR fantasies, creating interactive content, helpful navigational aides or any other AR systems that take their fancy. This AR world will be visible to anyone who has downloaded Arcona’s AR Viewer app to their smartphone or tablet.

The company, a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation’s IT cluster, says the new project will make AR technology more cost-efficient, popular and accessible to everyone, enabling even non-professional developers to build their own AR constructions. Experts say such technology could reduce the cost of launching AR projects by 40 percent.

Arcona uses geographic information systems, computer vision, 3D modelling and AI to create its interactive Digital Land plots. The company says it is the first global AR ecosystem founded on blockchain technology, making it possible to secure the copyright of people creating content for Arcona, and ensure all transactions in the system are transparent and secure.

Dinosaurs roaming the steets and skies of New York thanks to the Arcona ecosystem. Image: Arcona.

Built from need

Piligrim had the idea of creating virtual land from its own experience of creating AR landscapes. The company’s original product is tourist apps that allow visitors to historic sites to see what those sites looked like in their heyday, or to watch historic events that unfolded on that spot. The company has produced restored 3D versions of Pompeii and the Bastille, for example.

“We would have to go to the site and make multiple recordings of the surroundings, and select points that the camera would use to correctly position the augmented reality object against that background,” Sorina told Sk.ru. Each site required at least three visits by both a programmer and 3D specialist, to correct the positioning and improve accuracy, she said, so it was an expensive process. So in 2015, Piligram began researching ways to build digital constructions remotely.

“About a year ago, we realised we could do it not only for us, but for other developers and general users too who, like us, wanted to do it [create digital versions of locations] for tourism, real estate or any purpose, but the geographical site needed to be mapped correctly,” in order to ensure that AR objects would interact realistically with the site,” said Sorina.

“So we decided to set up a platform that would allow others to use our solutions, primarily other developers.”

The Digital Land parcels measure 100 square metres each, and developers can pay for them using Arcona tokens, the project’s internal currency. As well as St. Petersburg, the first plots up for auction were located in the hearts of Paris, New York, London, Rome, Barcelona, Beijing and Tokyo. More than 5 million square metres of Digital Land has already been reserved, and the project has 15,000 users, the company says.

Plots of digital land shown on St. Petersburg's iconic Palace Square, home to the Winter Palace. Image: Arcona.

In the first few days, the prices for certain lots tripled (they are sold via auction), and the average price growth was about 30 percent, according to Arcona. As well as building their own AR projects on the Digital Land plots, users can also buy and sell plots to and from each other, or rent out particularly advantageous sites to advertisers and other users.

The users who have already purchased Digital Land plots are currently working on developing AR projects for them, and the results will be unveiled at the end of the year, when Arcona’s AR Viewer is released, said Sorina. A complete version of the marketplace will be released at the same time, comprising 3D content, programming code, and AR/VR services for all users. The marketplace will also be a communication platform for developers, artists, lawyers, animators and other creative professionals who form part of the AR ecosystem, Arcona believes.

Proven model

Piligrim already has experience of implementing its technology for a variety of purposes. In addition to its tourism reconstructions, the first investor in Arcona was a large Spanish real estate agency, Sorina told Sk.ru. The company used the AR technology around various locations in Madrid to show images of the final result of projects that are still under construction, as well as to show passers-by information about sites that are up for sale or rent.

Piligrim has three AR parks in Russia, and five more in France, Italy, Estonia, Latvia and Bulgaria.

“When at Piligrim we were using AR for tourism, at one of the sites [where our technology was implemented], visitor numbers increased by 30 percent, and the city administration confirmed that,” said Sorina.

“Thanks to its new interactive installation, visitor traffic grew several sizes, and that growth was not a one off, but stable,” she added.

The sites can be used for any AR purpose, from games and entertainment to navigation. Image: Arcona.

The company does not feel threatened by any immediate rivals, says Sorina.

“We have no competitors for now. Indoor AR is very popular, most other companies are working on AR within airports, or for home redecoration, furniture etc. There are fewer companies working on outdoor AR.”

Piligrim has already convinced investors of the viability of its new project: last year, the company raised $650,000 from private investors to develop Arcona.

Piligrim has been a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation since 2014, after winning the St. Petersburg stage of the foundation’s Startup Tour. At Skolkovo’s Startup Village the same year, it was awarded a prize by Sberbank Technologies for the best client-oriented mobile app. The company has won many other awards, including a prize from Intel Software. It took part in the prestigious Russian accelerator programme GenerationS and was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises.

In 2016, Spanish company Way2Wow bought 25 percent of the startup.