You Can Thank an April Fool's Joke for Bringing You Pokemon Go

Illustration for article titled You Can Thank an April Fool's Joke for Bringing You Pokemon Go

Everyone who spent the past week in the throes of Pokemon Go has an April Fool’s joke to thank—or blame, depending on whether you were robbed—for the phenomena.

Two years ago, Google’s annual April Fool’s joke was a Pokemon challenge integration with Google Maps. In its promotional video, a man claims that “using the technology created by the Google Maps team, we’ve prepared the most rigorous test known to man to find the world’s best Pokemaster.”

It was fun, it was cute—and it sparked an idea for John Hanke. Hanke is the CEO of Niantic Labs, which developed Pokemon Go and was then still a part of Google. Hanke, having already created the location-based game Ingress with Niantic, thought the concept could be more than a joke and ended up asking the company’s director of Asia Pacific whether the Pokemon idea “could be done in the real world.” I think we know the answer here.


A year later, the company was spun off from Google, and after only a few days Pokemon Go is bigger than Tinder on Android. It’s actually astonishing how we’ve reached the point that a prank—meant to trick gullible people into thinking the unlikely is real—can became reality. So thanks for this one, Google. Maybe we’ll even forgive you for this year’s failed joke.


Angela Chen is the morning editor at Gizmodo.

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Augmented Reality is a solution that was seeking a problem. People actually like the world a lot and if given a chance will go out into it for the most flimsy of reasons at the worst of times. And people who such a game would appeal to actually have the time to do so.

Pokemon has three things that match it perfectly with phone based AR:

1) It was always a game about exploration and mobility - you had to travel a lot and go to places you wouldn’t normally go.

2) It was also a very simple design where most everything was done from an overview map.

3) Things like trading, interacting, combat (which was more like pet playtime), etc., were usually networked between two or more players, lending itself to the idea of person-to-person interaction.

There are lots of other games that could fit AR very well especially once we have more immersive AR devices. But more importantly, AR with the proper device could be a very powerful tool for helping us navigate the real world. Imagine if you’re walking along a sidewalk and wanted to shop for clothing. Not only could an AR system guide you to the places that might have what you’re looking for, but could also do so based on parameters you set long before you get there. Plus the store could have a local interface that could have virtual AR characters wearing the clothing they have in stock in your size on a model that represents you via the parameters you give to the system.

These parameters could be something like: “share my measurements” when you walk past an applicable store, and they just get your dimensions so that the right clothing can be presented, and it could be only those clothes which are in stock. Already know what you want? The system could guide you to the places that have the best deals on the items you’re looking for. Maybe put up a BBB rating too.

Shopping for food and want the best prices? The AR system could not only point out the places that have the ingredients you’re looking for but could plot a course that takes you around to them more efficiently. Useful for the impulse buyer that would be better off getting only what is on their list.

Then there are the interface possiblities. Imagine if your car is equipped with night vision cameras. An AR system could project the Night Vision onto your eyes so that you could “see” what the car sees in addition to augmenting the view from the driver’s location. Properly overlaid you’d be able to “see” through physical obstacles in your car (blind spots). Its something that could save a lot of lives and prevent a lot of accidents.

Lets face it, some version of Battlefield or Call of Duty will be put on AR too once we have an optical overlay system either in contact lenses or glasses. Its going to happen. Kids like playing soldier.

I think for people like me, AR represents something else... if we can augment/enhance the image coming to our eye - those of us with eye issues might be able to use such a system to actually allow us to see with a thinner set of glasses on our face. In this case, AR is reprojecting the light in the world in a way that is adjusted for our vision limitations. Some work recently with Titanium Dioxide (at the nanoscale level) actually looks very, very promising for creating a “flat” lens for various levels of focus. Something like that could change the world of assistive optics. Especially considering titanium dioxide is paint whitener and really cheap and simple to manufacture and obtain. Combine that kind of system with a nano-scale led matrix that directs light to the user (on the outside of the TiO2) and allows external light to “wrap around” (doable with the diffractive optics TiO2 enables) and then you have a pair of AR glasses that are as thin as sunglasses yet have an extremely high res display inside them that can be used to project AR information.