Pokemon go did not come from nowhere. It’s been waiting for us.
I've been involved in the Augmented Reality community for well over a decade now. I've stalked forums and blogs, snuck into standards meetings at the w3c and discussed protocols. I’ve met a few of the key people from the many different companies helping to drive AR tech forward - leading us to a half virtual world.
Through all of that Pokemon was often mentioned. It was always a example of perfect game for the AR experience. Since long before Ninantic existed, let alone dreamed of getting the license, it was considered a potential “killer app” in the community. It was one of the things that represented what AR could become.
So now we actually have a world wide, Pokemon AR game how will it develop?
What exactly will AR become?
While I have no insight into anyone's specific plans, I am aware of many AR related technologies coming up, and believe I know what will be feasible, and indeed likely, to play a large role in the years ahead.
1 to 3 years -
...to the stars above.
The most obvious changes over the next few years will be purely gameplay related. Unlike Nintendo, who follows a "finish the game and release" philosophy, Niantic follows the more common mobile model of constant updates with new features.("Release early, release often")
What was once a spartan game at release is becoming more familiar, with trading,battles,and numerous other features added and refined to keep people interested.
Towards the end of the 3 years, however, things might get more exciting thanks to developments far above.
Since 2011 the European Space Agency has been launching a large number of satellites to form the "Galileo Constellation"...
This array of 30 satellites will provide a more accurate European alternative to the US GPS network.
The existing GPS public signal is accurate to 4 meters on a good day with clear reception.
By, comparison the Galileo satellite signal will be accurate to just 1 meter - even in cities and built up areas that might struggle to get good GPS reception.
It gets better though: Because the more satellites your phone can receive signals from the more accurate it can place itself, it's possible to use both gps and Galileo at the same time.
This means if you have good reception of the existing gps network and Galileo, you could even position your phone to within a few centimeter.
What does this mean for Pokemon players?
Well, it means more accurate placement of everything. Pokemon should be able to appear on the correct side of a road, house or building. Or even on top of a water fountain.
In short, things will be less "fuzzy" in terms of where they are.
It will won't yet be true "fixed to the real world" AR, but it would be a lot better, and it should happen automatically as phones start to support the new signals. Ninantic doesn't even have to work for this one.
3 to 5 years -
...teach Pokemon to understand.
Things should get really interesting over this period, as technology available *right now* should be both commonplace and reliable enough to use in-game - and the tech is pretty exciting.
When you look around your room right now, you instantly know what things are. Computer, Table, Chair, Elephant.
But computers till recently did not; they only knew a array of pixel values without any context.
However, thanks to pretty recent AI developments, computers can now understand and interpret those pixels to know what it's actually looking at.
For example, right now you can send a image to google and it will tell you what’s in it:
And their AI will work out what it contains, together with how sure it is.
While obviously not perfect, it's incredibly impressive.
Now imagine how this would tie to Pokemon. Imagine if your phone’s camera knew what it was looking at. It knew what was a building, a tree, a car, a mountain lion.
It could potentially make the Pokemon behave and react correctly around those objects, or even give a much more fine-grained "attraction" making Pokemon hang around where you expect them to.
Pokemon could even react, at least somewhat, to real life pets and wildlife making them seem more alive and part of the world around them.
The only thing stopping this tech being used now is speed and cost - processing the odd image uploaded is one thing. Processing tens of millions of Pokemon players images every few seconds? Considerably more effort.
Tango/Other 3d sensing:
At the moment Pokemon are displayed by simply pasting their pixels on top of the camera image.
Like a sticker on the screen, they can never go behind anything.
This is because phones at the moment have no sense of depth. They don't know what pixels are in front of what other pixels - so they could never place anything in between. Augmented reality at the moment consists just of pasting things over the camera feed.
Thankfully this will change, because phones are becoming equipped with 3d sensing systems.
One sensing system which seems mostly likely to catch on is Google's project Tango.
The very first “Tango“ equipped phones are just starting to come out, so it will be awhile before they are mainstream, and awhile longer before Apple presumably has their own version.
Systems like Tango will enable Pokemon to look vastly more like they exist in the real world. They could wonder behind objects - even cast and receive shadows as real objects.
Aside from looking spiffy and increased sense of immersion, it would also allow brand new gameplay. Pokemon could actually hide themselves, requiring skill to spot. This might even lead to whole new games. Pokemon Go Snap anyone?
5-10 years -
...escaping the phones
For the moment despite the improvements above, the Pokemon inhabiting the world will be trapped behind the glass of our phones. We get a small window into another world, but no more.
This will change.
Many companies are working on head mounted displays, not to replace reality, but to add to it.
Microsoft's Hololens being arguably the furthest ahead in this field at the moment.
For $3000 you can get a complete standalone head mounted display (hmd) able to mix the real and virtual together, synced perfectly. It's still generation 1 hardware, limited field of view, and while it works outdoors the large form factor and limited battery makes it far from practical.
But it’s today's tech. Developers can buy this now.
Following up behind Hololens is MagicLeap:
MagicLeap promises superior fields of view, and more natural focusing, but has yet to show of any hardware so it's likely a few years away.
There's also Meta - likely significantly cheaper then Microsoft's and offering similar features. Then there's Vuzix, ODG, Epson, Atheer - as well as almost half a dozen other companies working in this space - each one trying to be the very best.
Provided these companies can show a viable market, it's safe to say this tech will get smaller,better,cheaper and lighter. After all, when has tech not?
So in less than a decade we should have outdoor AR specs, which while not perfect, will let us live in a hybrid world of real and virtual. For gaming, entertainment, information or practical uses we will have virtual objects and information whenever we need - potentially replacing computer monitors completely.
And one of the key things leading us to this half virtual world will be Pokemon - although they won't be pocket sized monsters anymore..
11 years - Team Instinct wins Pokemon go. Game shuts down.