Pokemon Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Taking the Consumer Route: The Silly Start to Serious Innovation

As the first large-scale, practical application of augmented reality, maybe Pokémon GO isn’t that silly after all. Maybe it’s just a silly harbinger of the next big manufacturing revolution. Or maybe not.

In July, the whole world temporarily went completely nuts over a very silly, high-tech regurgitation of a very silly, low-tech 90s cartoon.

Just one month after its release, Pokémon GO was installed on 100 million smartphones and sent 100 million consumers pouring into the streets to collect, train, and battle imaginary monsters. The world quickly came to its senses, of course, but it in its short reign, the game made a lot of headlines and a lot of money. But it was all still very silly.

However, behind the game, something very serious and very interesting was at work.

Pokémon GO is the first large-scale, practical application of augmented reality, overlaying digital information onto a real-time view of the physical world to literally add new dimensions to standard reality. This is a big deal.

Industrial technology makers have been tinkering with this technology for years. Developing a system that can provide real-time information on machine statuses, operational parameters, KPIs, or process information to operators on the floor without the need for computer terminals could be a total game-changer for the industry. That is exactly what industrial wearable-makers like Epson are banking on.

All they have been waiting for is one successful application to prove its value. And now we have it... in a ridiculous consumer game.

But maybe that’s not so bad. Sometimes, it seems, that’s how manufacturing innovation gets its legs.

Remember, 3D printing was around for 30 years before a gang of Brooklynites transformed it into a cool consumer gadget. Then the world went nuts for the technology and the 3D printer makers made a lot of money (and a lot of investments).

Now, though the consumer buzz has faded, the three-year hype cycle it caused has pushed industrial 3D printing further ahead than it had climbed in the previous three decades.  

And look at IoT. All of the benefits the manufacturing world is beginning to reap from digital manufacturing is based on cheap, tiny, sophisticated sensors. And sensors, of course, were anything but cheap, tiny, or smart in the industrial world until the consumers fell in love with their smartphones.

So maybe this is the way of innovation. The industrial world invents brilliant new things because it needs them, the consumer world scales them up because it wants them, and manufacturers reclaim them in the end to revitalize the industry.

In that sense, maybe Pokémon GO isn’t that silly after all. Maybe it’s just a silly harbinger of the next big manufacturing revolution.

Or it could be a dumb game. Time will tell.



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