Pokémon GO could change the world of design and engineering
You may have seen the news stories about Pokémon GO, the app for iPhones and Android phones, that has human beings glued to their phones while running around in the real world trying to capture Pokémon cartoon characters. Players use their phone’s camera to find and catch Pikachu and his friends in museums, parks and other settings. As with the card game, the goal is to catch as many as possible and beat other players.
Vox explains it this way (and has some great pictures):
Pokémon Go uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon “appear” around you (on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them. As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is. The idea is to encourage you to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game.
There are security concerns, as players can be tracked and hacked, and basic safety issues as more people take to public spaces while glued to their phones — but this is also an amazing opportunity to educate the masses about augmented reality (AR) and the gamification of almost everything. According to the Wall Street Journal, since the game became available last Wednesday in the US, Australia and New Zealand, it has seen over 2 million downloads from the Apple app store along (apparently no data on Android). That means over 2 million people are exploring the world via AR, getting used to the merging of real and digital content in a totally natural way. They didn’t say, “I want to try AR”; they want to play a game. They didn’t buy a new device or even think about the underlying software. AR isn’t an add-on or even a specific thing, just a tool to let them do what they want.
Picture this: you’re waiting for your morning subway train to work or school. As you stand on the platform, your phone vibrates to tell you that a Pokémon is somewhere nearby. You look at the screen and see the critter superimposed on the bench near you. You throw the (virtual) ball and play the game.
Now change the scenario ever so slightly. You’re on the platform but as an engineer tasked with assessing the safety of the fire escape plan for the subway station. You need to know where the air handing equipment is and where the tie-ins are located to the fire suppression system. Instead of seeing Pikachu (the yellow guy with the pointy ears), you see this information superimposed on the very real platform around you. You to take notice of the bench that’s welded in place in front of a tie in and start to formulate your plan to improve safety. You’ve just joined the real and the digital world, and it’s no game.
We generally have access to as-designed data, and may even have updated that to as-built. Keeping as-maintained data may be more rare, but knowing that we will want to use it in an AR scenario sometime in the future could be enough motivation to try. Once we’ve got the data, it becomes a data management exercise to coordinate access and a technological issue to correctly place it in the real-world context. We can do all of this; we just need to want to.
Putting AR into millions of hands massively changes the game (pun intended) for visual tools. What teenager, about to enter the workforce, will be content to stand with paper drawings when she’s used to superimposed AR? On a device she carries anyway? And didn’t pay extra to have? Who even needs to learn the art of interpreting flat drawings into a 3D context, when we can walk around a virtual object and learn about it from all angles? If we’re trying to determine the best placement for that subway platform bench, why not digitally try it out it with AR while standing right on the platform? A lot of what we’re used to doing at our desks in a more abstracted way becomes “real” and possible out in the field with AR.
Pokémon GO had been rumored and teased for a while, so the 2+ million downloads may be the early adopter tip-of-the-iceberg of eventual users. Compare those 2+ million downloads in less than a week to the tens of thousands of Google Glass and maybe a few million (total guess) Google Cardboard in the nearly two years it’s been available, and we’re likely to see an explosion in the awareness of and use of virtual and augmented reality by people who will expect and demand similar technology in their working world, too. We’d better get ready.
Go to the game’s official website, if this might be your thing.
Cover image courtesy of The Pokémon Company International.