‘Our world has changed:’ Pokémon Go and the future of AR/VR in St. Louis, across the country | St. Louis Public Radio

‘Our world has changed:’ Pokémon Go and the future of AR/VR in St. Louis, across the country

Jul 27, 2016

Pokémon Go has become an unequivocal sensation in the past couple of weeks across the world and right here in St. Louis. On the negative side, it has been associated with some crime. On the positive side, it has been credited with boosting small business, bringing people together and encouraging people to explore parts of their world they hadn’t yet explored.

As one listener, Keith Rose, shared over email:

“I'm a twenty-something who grew up with Pokémon, and I've been playing the new game recently. I am very worried about the number of people who I have seen playing the game while driving, and slamming on their breaks or even reversing on roads. But I also want to say that Pokémon Go has helped me learn more about our city. It uses existing public artworks and monuments as significant stops in the game. Just last night I discovered a giant monument to Confederate war prisons in Alton, a town I have lived in for my entire life.

“In addition to physical fitness, Pokémon Go is helping young people explore their communities and meet real people in real life.”

Nathan Pettyjohn, CEO and founder of Aisle411.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

That pairing of physicality, geography and an online reality is what Nathan Pettyjohn, the CEO and Co-Founder of St. Louis-based Aisle411 specializes in. He’s also the founder of St. Louis’ VR/AR Association.

“Our world has changed,” Pettyjohn said. “It happened about 2.5 weeks ago and we’ll remember it as the day Pokémon Go came to our world.”

People all over St. Louis have made their forays into augmented reality by playing the game over the past few weeks. One person tweeted to us that, while playing, it helped them find $20. Another said that she was introduced to different plaques around parks in the area that she never would have found otherwise. Local Facebook groups, Twitter accounts, signs at local churches and events at small businesses and organizations have cropped up. It is hard to overestimate the impact this virtual game has had on the physical, day-to-day world.

Pokémon Go is part of a larger world of apps, games and mobile/online services using augmented and virtual reality to redefine our world. As Pettyjohn describes it, virtual reality is what you call a person putting a headset/helmet over their eyes and fully immersing themselves in another environment. Augmented reality, on the other hand, combines the real with the virtual.

“Augmented reality is taking digital content and overlaying it on top of the real world,” Pettyjohn said. “We’ve had this for many years, where you can point your phone in the air and, using GPS, you can see information overlaid in the real world.”

What makes Pokémon Go game-changing, Pettyjohn said, is that the game capitalized on a brand awareness very well. While such augmented reality technology has existed for a while, tapping into the fandom of the original Pokémon was a smart marketing move.

“Secondly, they’ve mastered the gaming mechanics of this new game,” Pettyjohn said. “Third, they’ve layered in the real world and rewards in this game that keep you coming back for more.”

"This is a little sliver and taste of what can be in the coming years."

The combination of these things has “opened up the massive community to what augmented reality is,” Pettyjohn continued. That means big dividends for companies working this space. Some forecasts show the market for AR/VR technology to reach $120 billion by the year 2020.

“This is a little sliver and taste of what can be in the coming years,” Pettyjohn said.

Aisle411, the company that Pettyjohn founded, for example, uses augmented reality within stores to guide customers to specific products they are looking for.

“We’ve been doing that more traditionally with a birds eye map where a pin drops down,” Pettyjohn. “Also, for the past two years, we’ve been working on augmented reality navigation indoors. Where Pokémon can place this creature outside within a couple meters of accuracy. The new augmented reality technology for indoor navigation and gamification has 10 centimeter level accuracy.”

This has boundless potential to serve special sales or deals to the customer for products.

“It is about knowing exactly where you are, exactly what you’re looking for and being able to make recommendations at the exact right moment,” Pettyjohn said.

This kind of work, and the data it requires the customer to give up, also comes with a whole slew of ethical and privacy concerns. Listen to the full conversation here: Go has become an unequivocal sensation in the past couple of weeks across the world and right here in St. Louis. On the negative side, it has been associated with some crime. On the positive side, it has been credited with boosting small business, bringing people together and encouraging people to explore parts of their world they hadn’t yet explored.

On Wednesday, we hosted a discussion with a St. Louis company that specializes in augmented reality technology, which has gained attention in recent days due to the Pokémon Go craze. Nathan Pettyjohn is the CEO and Co-Founder of Aisle411. He’s also the Founder of St. Louis’ VR/AR Association.

Looking beyond Pokémon Go, what could the future of AR/VR be in our day-to-day lives? Pettyjohn expects that in the next 2-3 years we will see a glasses-like product that will “transform everything we know.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.