Reality Has Been Augmented

Reality Has Been Augmented

Pokémon Go Augments Reality

By Lloyd Marino

If you just returned from summer vacation and are wondering why so many people are aimlessly wandering about, staring intently at their phones, have I got news for you! The nature of reality has changed. Thanks to a game called Pokémon Go, we are all now living in the world of augmented reality.

You’ve probably heard about virtual reality, such as that offered in the sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix, a film featuring characters completely immersed in a computer-generated world. Augmented reality is a halfway step, a hybrid, if you will, in which computer-created elements are overlaid onto the real world. With Pokémon Go, a free smartphone game that’s top of the download charts, players use their smartphones to see and capture colorful, exotic monsters and virtual loot using a combination of ordinary technologies, including location tracking services and cameras that encourage participants to visit public landmarks, and exercise while exploring their neighborhoods. A number of Pokéstops and gyms are housed in local landmarks.

The original Pokémon games debuted in 1996 as part of Nintendo’s portable video game empire. To date, over 279 million copies of Pokémon have been sold. Pokémon Go brings the game’s monster capturing premise into the real world. And here’s the really cool thing: it’s rooted in big data. Using the smartphones’ GPS signals, the game tracks players via a huge database to determine if the player is near a wild Pokémon ripe for capturing, Pokéstops, where players can acquire in-game items, and gyms where players’ monsters battle each other.

Pokémon Go may be the best known, but it’s not our first augmented reality game. In fact, the data behind this game—the locations of Pokéstops and gyms—are based on data entered by players of Ingress, a similar game by Niatic, which created Pokémon Go for Nintendo. But this game’s success has dwarfed its predecessors, reaching an estimated 21 million users in its first week, and most likely twice that by now. People are even quitting their jobs to play the game full-time.

Big business has jumped on the bandwagon, attracting even more players with the help of big data. While many places, such as a national park, cannot yet ask to be added to the Pokéstops database, Niatic recently announced that it will add sponsored locations to the game. In Japan, McDonald’s paid to have its restaurants turned into Pokéstops for the game’s debut.

According to Forbes, businesses and locations that are already Pokéstops are buying lures, an in-game item which attract Pokémons, and then publicizing when they will be deployed, luring real customers along with the digital creatures. Due to concerns about people playing the game while driving, enterprising companies are already booking Pokémon Go tours that drive players through locations with many Pokémon. Someday, the game may accept advertising, with virtual signs or even animated corporate logos tied to the database and visible through people’s phones.

Nothing is yet known about how much data on players are being collected by Pokémon Go. Theoretically, since the game constantly accesses the smartphone’s GPS, it could record all players’ movements.  (Considering the server problems the game currently has, this is unlikely at present, but could be possible in the future.) Such a database would be extremely valuable for advertisers.

Gray Bright of Australia’s Josephmark points out, “There are not many other brands that come to mind that have all of the elements to make success of AR at the moment. However this is just beginning (AR has been around so long, and it always felt like it was just waiting to pop).” 

Big data influenced augmented reality has enormous future potential.  Imagine visiting historical sites where the famous events are not just described on a plaque but are actually visible as animated scenes through one’s smartphone or more sophisticated wearable computer interface. Students visiting a battlefield could follow the experience of troops in real time, seeing how the war was fought. Augmented reality could put flesh on dinosaurs, fulfilling one of my childhood fantasies by bringing these long extinct creatures to life. As the science changes—consider what happened when paleontologists determined that most dinosaurs descended from birds, not reptiles—museums will find that altering a virtual model is much cheaper, and more accurate than changing a real-world dinosaur-sized replica.

Real estate agents could tour virtual homes with clients, allowing them to choose different virtual furniture arrangements, creating a tangible image of what living in that same might feel like.  Businesses could make their settings more attractive through augmented reality. A restaurant could change its virtual look quickly and cheaply. Instead of closing down for remodeling, they could simply change the computer settings to transport customers, for one night anyway, to Italy for pizza or to a virtual Atlantis to promote seafood specials. Stores could have virtual mascots greeting customers.

Even in the technology field, we rarely see something that literally changes how people see the world. But that’s exactly what augmented reality does. Thanks to smartphone’s GPS linked to big data, people playing Pokémon Go see a different world than the rest of us. From here, it is only a small step to having people running competing programs with different worlds. One person on a walking path may be in a fantasy world of knights and dragons while another one walks in a future of robots and aliens.  If we think we have problems now with viewers of Fox News and MSNBC interpreting the world differently, just wait until they really do see different augmented realities.

Image By: Yolanda Sun

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