Augmented Reality and Pokémon Go

Augmented Reality (AR) functions by digitally enhancing a person’s view of a physical, real-world environment by augmenting its elements using computer-generated inputs such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data. AR technology has existed for a few years, but thanks to the new smartphone game, Pokémon GO, people are finally interested in it.

While the first head-mounted displayed system using computer-generated graphics was developed by Ivan Sutherland in 1968, the term “Augmented Reality” was not coined until 1990, by a Boeing researcher named Tom Caudell. In the early 90’s, AR was used in many different fields, from the Air Force with Louis Rosenberg to Theater with dancing acrobats by Julie Martin, but it did not make its way into entertainment until 1998 with the invention of the “yellow line” during a live NFL game broadcast.

In 2000, Hirokazu Kato created the ARToolKit, an open-source software library that uses video tracking to overlay computer graphics on a video camera, which greatly influenced the creation of new experiences and is still widely used. In 2009, ARToolKit brought augmented reality to web browsers.

From MARTA, the Volkswagen app that provides virtual step-by-step repair assistance to service technicians, toGoogle Glass, AR technology has been furiously advancing over the past 5 years but aside from early adopters, many people were unaware of the tech’s activity and momentum.

Last week, Pokémon GO launched in the U.S. App Store and Google Play and has exploded in popularity. On July 7th, one day after the app’s release, Pokémon GO was already installed on more U.S. Android phones than Tinder, by the 8th, it was installed on 5.16% of all Android devices in the U.S. and made it to the top of App Store chart in 4.5 hours, a record among recent gaming titles.

In addition to downloads, Pokémon GO is dominating on user engagement, with over 60% of users who downloaded the app using it daily in the U.S. This metric has put the app neck and neck with Twitter and may have more users in only a few more days.

For Nintendo Co., this has translated to 13% growth in shares to $222.16 in Tokyo Trading on the 12th, following a 25% surge on Monday the 11th, pushing the videogame marker’s market capitalization above $30 billion.

Pokémon GO represents a rare moment in technology development: when a niche tool for early adopters breaks through into the general population and becomes something much larger. With Pokémon GO, users can play as their own custom avatar and search their physical world, overlaid with a digital map and graphics representing characters, power-ups, and battling grounds. Users can view this world in their smartphone, coming across real landmarks and chasing Pokémon characters with the hope of catching them and using them to eventually battle other users. When a user spots a Pokémon, whose character traits resemble those of its living counterparts according to its geographic location (ex: Rattata and Pidgey resemble rats and birds), animals commonly found in New York City), they can try to capture it using Pokéballs to “catch ‘em all.”

The game has caused some unforeseen side effects however, with users complaining of fatigue from traversing their towns and cities and attracting crowds that disturb homeowners and create opportunities for thieves to strike. One user even accidently discovered a dead body in a river near her home.

Many attribute Pokémon GO’s success to not only the widely-popular subject matter, but the fact that it’s use of AR does not require expensive additional equipment like a headset, which virtual reality games often do. “This clearly demonstrates that A.R. can cross over into the mainstream on the devices people already have in at least some cases,” said Jan Dawson, a technology analyst at Jackdaw Research. “But it doesn’t necessarily do anything for the kind of A.R. and V.R. experiences big companies are piling so much money into.”

In the healthcare industry, Augmented Reality has brought about significant change with many different application possibilities in the medical sector. From improved medical training and patient education to actually assisting in surgeries, AR is poised to make an even bigger impact in healthcare in the coming years. I look forward to the new possibilities this technology poses for the healthcare industry, and just what companies can do to harness its popularity and potential for patients and healthcare providers.

Digital Strategist, New York

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