News: Pokémon GO's New Ability to Track Steps in Background Is First Step Forward for Niantic's AR Cloud Platform

Pokémon GO's New Ability to Track Steps in Background Is First Step Forward for Niantic's AR Cloud Platform

Niantic's most successful app, Pokémon GO, has become the first app to integrate the company's Real World Platform, the developer's AR cloud technology that enables multiplayer AR, persistent content, and occlusion with physical objects.

"RAD!" you say to yourself. "Now Pikachu will run behind trees, park benches, people, and other physical objects like in the Real World demo video." Not so fast, my friend.

Yes, Niantic Real World Platform is coming to Pokemon GO. But, not like this (yet). Image by Niantic/YouTube

The platform's first live deployment will be a new feature rolling out soon called Adventure Sync, which enables the game to track player's steps in the background. Using this feature, players can now hatch eggs or earn candy for their Buddy Pokémon without the game being active on their mobile device. In the context of AR, the virtual game lives on based on your real world activity even while you aren't playing it.

"This key feature unlocks a wide variety of gameplay opportunities on the Niantic Real World Platform, serving as an efficient and phone-friendly ,high-engagement tool that inspires players to head out into their local communities," said John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, in a blog post. "We're looking forward to finding new and exciting ways to implement it in our other games in the future."

Adventure Sync also syncs in the background for fitness tracking via Apple's iOS HealthKit and Google Fit, giving players credit for steps and calories burned. Moreover, the game will offer new weekly milestones based on player activity. This feature is particularly appropriate since Pokémon GO players are more active than some onlookers may realize. According to Niantic, players walked 53% more in 2018 than they did in 2017. Citing a survey of almost 2,000 players, the company claims that 70% of respondents believe the game makes them more active, 64% are more motivated to go outside, and 47% feel they are more physically active playing the game.

"We're touched by incredible stories from Trainers—from losing weight and overcoming anxiety, to making new friends and even falling in love—and they continue to inspire our feature roadmap," said Hanke. "Adventure Sync is our next step in rewarding more players for doing what they already love to do, while providing motivation to get outside and go for a walk—whether they're searching for Pokémon directly, or simply enjoying the sights, sounds, and people around them."

According to a company spokesperson, the new Adventure Sync feature will also be implemented in the forthcoming Ingress Prime and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite games.

With Adventure Sync, players no longer have to walk around with their phones out like this to earn steps for in-game rewards. Image by Pokémon GO/YouTube

So, to borrow from Christopher Nolan's Jim Gordon, it's not the Niantic Real World Platform implementation we need, but it is the one we deserve. Or, at least it's the deployment we want, as I personally have been waiting for this kind of functionality since the game first launched, because it's the AR cloud features of the platform, namely multiplayer, persistence, and occlusion, are what will really advance realistic AR experiences.

However, when looking back to the "peek under the hood" of the Real World Platform that Niantic published on its blog in June, Adventure Sync does represent a big step towards implementing those next-generation features.

"The Niantic Real World Platform advances the way computers see the world, moving from a model centered around roads and cars to a world centered around people, said Hanke in a blog post announcing the Niantic Real World Platform. "Modeling this people-focused world of parks, trails, sidewalks, and other publicly accessible spaces requires significant computation. The technology must be able to resolve minute details, to specifically digitize these places, and to model them in an interactive 3D space that a computer can quickly and easily read."

According to a company spokesperson, Adventure Sync doesn't change or add to the data that the game already collects, so, at this time, the feature is not collecting spatial data for computer vision-based features. Essentially, the feature integrates the functionality from the Pokémon GO Plus peripheral by measuring distance traveled even while the game is idle.

However, we know that the game does collect geospatial data. Therefore, by running in the background to record steps and reward players, Niantic can get a better understanding of the parks and public spaces that players go to play the game, as well as exercise. It also serves as a test of how the platform operates in the background for future expansion of Real World's capabilities.

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Cover image via Niantic

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