Poking the pokemon, and other realities
Long after the Pokemon seven day wonder, the developers have launched an upgrade to make it less intrusive. Meanwhile, augmented reality shows us some real world applications.
Two years ago, Pokemon was the hit of the summer, a game people played on their phones which let them hunt down mythical creatures in the real world. The software uses the camera built into the phone to display the view of our world, into which an image of the pokemon character was added, giving the illusion that the phone was revealing an otherwise invisible creature.
This was a clever idea, and became an overnight sensation, but it did lead to numerous complaints from property owners about Pokemon players hunting out hot-spots which had been placed in inappropriate places, such as on private land, on golf courses, and in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. A man from Massachusetts discovered his house had been designated a Pokemon gym, and he'd have up to 50 people sitting outside for hours at a time, staring at his front door. In one case, an Australian police station had so many phone zombies wandering in and out that the police put up a notice threatening to arrest anyone coming in on a pokemon hunt.
Twelve people sued the game maker, Niantic, over the nuisance caused by the game. The case has now been resolved, with Niantic saying it will introduce a new feature which will consist of a form on its website where property owners can complain about unsuitable pokemon meeting points, and which Niantic will respond to within 15 days.
So as is too often the case in the 21st century, it needed court action before the corporation has grudgingly retrofitted a privacy option, but still the onus is on the victim to know what Pokemon is and why people are trying to climb over their fence, they need to know this form exists and find it on the Pokemon website, and then they can opt out of something they never opted into in the first place.
The twelve people who complained about Pokemon intrusion have each received $1,000 in compensation. The lawyers fees for the case is $8 million, plus $130,000 in expenses.
Augmented reality and the real world
Pokemon used a technique called augmented reality. Augmented Reality is when we superimpose data onto our senses of the real world, and one of the earliest examples of this in a real application is the head-up displays (HUD) in aircraft. The HUD projects instrumentation onto a clear screen so that the pilot can more easily read key information such as bearing, altitude, and position of the horizon, without needing to look down at a console.
HUD has been used for many years in aviation, and increasingly is being used by the automobile industry. It is frequently used for displaying speed readouts, but it has huge potential for improving satnav, by superimposing drive instructions onto real world, augmented reality style. This video from a few years back shows the concept.
All of the ideas shown in that video are now achievable, not just the HUD technology, but the way it augments reality, and integrates the drive instructions into the the world you see through the windscreen.
However, it will only work well if satnav makers learn lessons from the aviation industry. When I look down at my current consumer-quality satnav, it is cluttered with distractions, too much information about passing points of interest, time to destination, etc, and maps which are far too detailed to be able to absorb in a quick glance. The aviation HUD underwent rigorous testing and incorporates only the information which is crucial to the pilot. The same principles of simplicity and clarity needs to apply to satnavs and car HUDs.
Not just vision
It is not just our eyes which can experience augmented reality, our ears can too, and this has led to the development of superb audio enhancement of the real world. Microsoft has developed one such system called Soundscape, and this video illustrates some of its features.
What that video doesn't make clear is that the sound is in stereo, and hence directional. Our brains and ears combined are very good at understanding the directions that sounds come from. The app doesn't need to say "supermarket on the right", just "supermarket", and the stereo nature of the sound allows it to be positioned on the right and for humans to intuitively understand what that means.
One feature mentioned in passing in that video is the beacon technology. Imagine how much easier it would be to find your way unsighted to a bus stop, for example, if the bus stop was emitting a regular bleep, an audio beacon, that you could home in on. Augmented reality makes this possible. If you set a destination in the app, it generates an audible beacon in the headset which appears to come from the direction of the destination. The latest headsets used in beacon technology have built in compasses so that as the wearer turns their head to orient themselves, the apparent position of the beacon remains fixed, just like a real sound source.
A common them with enabling technology is that an idea developed to improve access for people with disabilities turns out to be rooted in usability and will likely become something we will all want to use in the years to come.
27th February 2019
This article comes from the SKILLZONE email newsletter, published monthly since January 2008, and covering topics related to technology and the internet. All articles and artwork in the SKILLZONE newsletter are orignal content. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox each month, please SUBSCRIBE here. It is free, and you don't get added to any other mailing lists. It uses best-practice confirmed opt-in only, and you may unsubscribe at any time.