Ready for a little Pokémon Go in the government market?

You see it everywhere: kids (and many adults) walking down the sidewalks, on the beach, or on pathways in the park, eyes glued to their phones. These people are caught up in the recent resurgence of Nintendo’s Pokémon.

The online game has been the rage of the summer and the first wide-spread adoption of augmented reality in popular culture, and for companies such as Esri—who have been in the augmented business for a years—there’s opportunity afoot.

Pokémon Go, developed by American software company Niantic, brings Pokémon to the user through an augmented reality platform on their cell phone. Users can open the app, find locate nearby Pokémon on the map, and try their hand at catching these Pokémon in order to net awards.

Augmented reality, a blending of the real-world environment and computer-generated sensory input—is not new, despite its recent popularity.

"Every football fan has been experiencing augmented reality without them knowing it," said Mansour Raad, senior software architect at Esri. For example, when the offense and defense line up against each other the line of scrimmage is automatically projected into the camera shot and can be viewed as the fan watches the game.

“[Augmented reality] has been around for some time and tech is still developing, but it’s been used more predominantly in the areas of manufacturing and maintenance,” said Tony Demarinis, managing director at Deloitte. For example, schematics, engineering reports, or performance support for procedures can be overlaid.

Esri’s business was bolstered by augmented reality when cell phones became ubiquitous, and augmented reality allowed workers to see hidden telephone lines and electrical wiring in the ground without having to uncover the ground themselves.

In 2013, Deloitte published a report outlining three potential usages for augmented reality, including a Customs and Border Protection agent wearing augmented reality sunglasses to see real-time translations.

Other applications imagined in the report include a Transportation Security Administration agent utilizing a security camera's facial recognition software to see if a person has been flagged for further investigation, or a first responder in a helicopter using augmented reality to figure out which buildings have been searched for survivors, and which have not.

"Just imagine if they were able to look at a building through their phone, glasses or helmet shield and see the schematic information along with the real world image," Raad said. "Now, they can see hidden assets – where does a door lead to in the building? Is there a hallway? How many more rooms are on a particular floor?"

Other companies are utilizing augmented reality in their work, as well. For example, Navteca, a woman-owned technology services company, is working with NASA's Earth Science Technology Office to display data from Esri's ArcGIS online in real-time, allowing scientists and researchers to visualize and interpret air quality mission data, said Shayna Skolnik, Navteca CEO and co-founder.

The recent popularity of Pokémon Go has been good for business by helping publicize Esri's platform, which was used by Y. Liu, a app developer who used Esri's platform to create an app called PokéVision, which helps users locate pokémon in the game.

“When we crated the locator with ArcGIS, we only meant for it to be used between a few people. We had no idea how popular it would become and our services were hit immediately by a crazy number of requests," said Y. Liu in an interview with Esri.

ArcGIS Online is a complete, cloud-based mapping platform that can be used to create and share maps. The software-as-a-service platform is scalable, which came in handy when PokéVision's popularity took off.

"We originally used the Google Maps API to display the pokémon, but soon after, our limit was reached – even with a paid plan. We discovered ArcGIS right after and swapped both the maps API and geocoding to their system," Liu said.

This was crucial to the app, because according to Raad, the number of users grew from a few hundred to 7 million users in only two and a half days. The app has since been shut down, but it did help give exposure to how commercial trends can be utilized to bring attention to a company's offerings.

Pokémon Go is not likely to change the face of the augmented reality market, Raad said, but any news is good news.

"I am glad that people are aware of it,” he said. “I personally prefer augmented reality to virtual reality because I still like to feel my reality, I like to be in the physical place. Suddenly things that were hidden via geospatial information are appearing and giving me context of where I am," he said.

And the recent attention given to augmented reality through Pokémon Go might translate to more agency applications of it, with the federal government becoming more and more interested in its utility, Demarinis said.

But there is a risk factor, he said—agencies should be wary not to get caught up in the novelty of augmented reality instead of its practical business application.

To get around that, he said, design is key. "The design is going to be the critical thing that separates good interactions and experiences and the success of the industry overall from it remaining as a novelty and living in that domain only."

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a senior staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at mhoover@washingtontechnology.com, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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