Google’s Niantic labs has unveiled their new augmented reality game: Ingress. By using Android smartphone technology, Ingress transforms the world you know into a land of mystery, intrigue, and competition.
“A mysterious energy has been unearthed by a team of scientists in Europe. The origin and purpose of this force is unknown, but some researchers believe it is influencing the way we think. We must control it or it will control us... Move through the real world using your Android device and the Ingress app to discover and tap sources of this mysterious energy. Acquire objects to aid in your quest, deploy tech to capture territory, and ally with other players to advance the cause of the Enlightened or the Resistance.” -Google Play description.
This game has just recently been released for closed beta testing and has taken social networks by storm. From the limited information provided, it’s clear that walking through the real world and taking pictures of important landmarks is a core gameplay mechanic. The game, like most Google products, is absolutely free to use. So why did they build it in the first place?
The answer: big data. Google has mastered data collection and analysis. They have a history of providing great new tools and toys, and using those tools to gather data later used to improve core products.
Consider GOOG-411, Google’s free automated directory enquiries service. Back when it first came out, people wondered why Google built the thing. They didn’t make any money off of it and nobody knew how they would ever be able to. What was the point? Again, it was data. By collecting huge numbers of enquiries from a wide range of people, Google was able to build a database of accents and cadences that they later used to perfect their voice recognition technology for Android.
Now consider the game, and you will have a pretty clear idea of the purpose behind it. In order to play, you walk from place to place with Ingress running on your GPS enabled smartphone, You take geo-tagged pictures using the app, and all the while the data is collected and sent to Google’s server where gameplay takes place.
Through this process, Google is collecting vast amounts of pedestrian data, average walking speed, routes taken, pictures, and even Wi-Fi hotspots available.
Google Maps currently does not cover pedestrian walking paths well, and with Nokia’s recently announced pedestrian turn-by-turn directions, Google will probably use the data from Ingress to create the best pedestrian maps available.
So far, Ingress is getting rave reviews from users. People love the game as it helps them experience their cities in a whole new way. Even when users are made aware of the purpose of their playing, they’re still loving the experience.
“Very fun to play. I don't mind allowing them to gather data, with the idea that I will need to use the service that will be developed from it.”
This is a stark difference from government data practices that tend to infurate us.
With what’s shaping up to be a stellar and truly unique gameplay experience, Ingress is off to a great start. Regardless of where it goes from here, it’s clear that Google is building an unrivaled pedestrian traffic dataset, one that will likely make Google Maps pedestrian directions by far the best available.
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