Pokémon Go might just get a lot more realistic. The game's developer Niantic revealed a new technology technique called "occlusion" that allows digital avatars to recognize objects around them in the real world. Basically, it means that the Pokémon in Pokémon Go will know if things like bushes are nearby and hide behind them.
The technology is an upgrade to Niantic's "Real World Platform," one of the pillars upon which Pokémon Go is built. Niantic just announced that other developers will be given access to the platform to develop apps of their own. To give hopeful developers an example of what they could achieve, Niantic showed a demo video of the occlusion technique featuring Pikachu.
Occlusion is the result of machine-learning techniques, reports The Verge, that Niantic got from a startup it acquired. The startup, called Matrix Mill, provided Niantic the tools to create a neural network that gives virtual items the awareness to recognize real-world objects in real time. The example in the video showed Pikachu dashing behind flower pots, and even being able to know that human pedestrians were coming and make way accordingly.
You can imagine how challenging it would be to capture a Pokémon when it's doing this:
Of course, Niantic CEO John Hanke reminded viewers that this was just a demo. Occlusion is nowhere near ready to be included in Pokémon Go as it is now. For one thing, accounting for how the 100+ creatures of all shapes and sizes would interact with their environment sounds like a huge headache. Still, it does give a glimpse into what Niantic might have planned for the future of Pokémon Go. And with the tech open to third-party developers, there's no telling what exciting new apps are on the way.
The biggest potential problem with occlusion is that it requires AR functionality. AR is known to ravage a phone's battery. Most Pokémon Go players turned the function off months ago and never looked back. So while it would make dreams come true to see Pokémon running around in the actual wild, it seems like the sort of thing that will last a week before getting switched off to save battery. Still, it would be an awesome week.