Dr. Roger Smith
Pokémon Go has changed the trajectory of the world on a scale just slightly smaller than Google Search and Facebook, but still to a magnitude that will be felt through all industries in the coming years. To many, it looks like a very simple game that incorporates a few unique and compelling features. But this game has taken technologies from niche research and gaming communities and thrust them into the world’s consciousness.
Suddenly everyone understands what “augmented reality” means and how an artificial digital world can be mapped onto the real physical world. Neither of these is new, but they garnered little attention until they appeared in a concrete, compelling and simple free game for every cell phone in the country.
Augmented reality is a technique for layering data from one or more virtual worlds onto the real physical world. It has been demonstrated and used in military situation awareness and aircraft maintenance applications for years. But it has barely escaped these kinds of niche communities.
Overlaying virtual and physical worlds seemed like a plaything for nerds until it was coupled with the ubiquitous cell phone. Then it became a way of enhancing how we interact with everything on the planet, from entertainment and emergency response to education and healthcare, to name but a few.
The mapping of virtual and physical worlds is exactly what Google Maps and all similar apps already do. But those limit themselves to layering information about objects, businesses and buildings, which actually have an almost identical physical presence. We are accustomed to the digital map knowing the route to our destination, the location of traffic jams and the operating hours of a company, as well as and providing customer experience reviews. Each of these comes directly from our older experience with paper maps, telephone directories and newspaper reviews. But creating entirely new and artificial information like PokéStops and PokéGyms is a revelation to most people. This begs the question: “What else can be mapped to the real world?” and “What value can be created by doing so?”
The game app displays Pokémon floating on your phone’s screen and overlaid on the real world immediately in front of you. This seems to be a very clever, though not difficult, trick to use in a game. It creates the simple perception that the digital and physical worlds are not really that separate. They may be just a thin veneer away from merging or interacting in some way. In this initial game foray, any interactions are illusory — but in the future, that might not be the case.
So little has been done that everything lies in the domain of the possible future.
Does any of this matter beyond entertaining mobile games? Can it be applied to fields that impact the way we are educated, protected, served and healed in the real world?
Obvious entertainment apps
A Disney version in which guests find virtual Disney characters while walking around a theme park is one obvious and compelling application. Guests will be enticed to explore new areas of the theme park, enter new restaurants and navigate the gift shops as they pursue a virtual Mickey, Minnie or Donald character appearing on their phone.
The entertainment giant can decide when and where these virtual characters appear, contributing to crowd control, restaurant business, gift purchases and a richer experience in the theme park. The daily parades may be augmented with character capture and even virtual performances that occur on the floats and in sync with the live characters.
Certain characters and assets may appear only at specific theme parks, motivating guests to purchase multi-park tickets so they can capture everything that is available. When coupled with the company’s wristband technology, certain characters, power-ups and valuable digital objects can be made to appear only for guests who are registered at one of the resorts. The ownership of a digital object might also convey a discount at a gift shop or enter the player into a drawing for a character dinner.
Theme parks currently organize wildly popular food and wine festivals. They could similarly organize dedicated Peter Pan days in which all of the characters from those stories appear, to be followed the next week by Pirates of the Caribbean or The Jungle Book. Because these are virtual, the cost to change them out is significantly decreased from physical venues.
There is really no question about whether some of these applications will be created.
Movies can extend their reach beyond the theater and television. Audiences can walk the streets of New York City or Chicago encountering an overlay of their favorite movie at the same location. They can play the mysteries of The da Vinci Code while visiting The Louvre. Augmented reality can display the buildings of Star Fleet Academy on the streets of San Francisco. Or view the rubble of the destroyed city of Chicago in the Divergent series while you walk the Miracle Mile. See virtual characters rappelling down the sides of real buildings, just as they did in the movie.
Video games can also be navigated via the real world. Build your Minecraft world directly on top of your real house, in your own backyard, or augment your school building with the characters of your own choosing. Imagine a quiet school hallway which, when viewed through your cellphone game, is actually teeming with dozens of crazy animals that were created and placed there by the students themselves.
Museum displays can come alive, showing the painter creating the work from the beginning right in front of you and overlaid with the location of the actual finished painting. Or view Italian sculpture as it appeared when it was new and standing in the original courtyard in which it was displayed.
The number of entertainment and education applications has almost no boundary. So little has been done that everything lies in the domain of the possible future.
Compelling healthcare apps
When a guest at a hotel, restaurant, mall or theme park collapses with a heart attack, can you find the nearest defibrillator device? They are everywhere in our society, but completely invisible in an emergency. Open your Emergency Services app and see a local map with the location of every AED, fire extinguisher, fire alarm and emergency phone clearly displayed. The app will guide you quickly to exactly what you need.
You are 80 years old and can’t remember where you left your prescription bottle. With a smart bottle and the Pokémon Go map technology, simply open your phone and it will guide you straight to the bottle. But, did you take your pills today? The same smart bottle places a floating poké-pill in your phone and you “capture it” by taking a pill out of the bottle and making the motions to ingest it. If you do not take your pills for several days, there are multiple poké-pills floating on the bottle’s location.
But the app is smart enough to know that the solution is not to take them all at once to catch up. Instead, it encourages you to take only 1.5 or 2 doses to catch up (or whatever is medically appropriate). Then the game servers keep track of your mistake and notify a care provider if there is a potential problem developing. Using a telemedicine app, a nurse practitioner can call you directly to discuss the situation.
If you have home care monitoring equipment, you can take your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, weight and even blood chemistry. That data can be overlaid on the face-to-face video call so the healthcare provider can maintain direct contact with you while also viewing all your vital statistics.
A cell phone can become the most important piece of healthcare equipment in the world.
All of these possibilities have been unleashed by the reboot of a 20-year-old Japanese card game targeted at children. There is really no question about whether some of these applications will be created. The real question is how fast will they appear and how many it will take before this technology touches 100 percent of the population of the country.