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Biotechnology

The technology that makes 'Pokemon Go'

Dozens of Pokemon character Pikachu parade during a special gathering event of Pikachu at Minatomirai shopping district in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Aug.10.

TOKYO -- Over a month has passed since the release of "Pokemon Go" in Japan. The initial frenzy may have died down, but not before the game was listed in the Guinness World Records as the world's most downloaded mobile game in its first month.

But just what was the technology behind the game that won the hearts of users all over the world?

"Pokemon Go" is a location-based game that tracks players' positions using global positioning system technology and radio waves from base stations. Other such games include ones where players have to visit designated check points and characters grow depending on the distance traveled.

With people having to physically go to places to earn points, the games can be used by municipalities and companies for local revitalization or promotion.

Pokemon characters pop up when users view a landscape through their smartphone camera. The characters come out at a certain time and several players see the same Pokemon if they are in the same place.

Mari Yada, Guest Researcher of Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies said the game has probably attracted so many users through the novelty of finding fictional characters in the real world.

Using GPS radio waves, which were originally developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, and the quasi-zenith satellite Michibiki launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2010, improved the precision of the system, enabling it to track locations to within just a few centimeters.

The other key technology is augmented reality, which superimposes Pokemon characters on real landscapes viewed on a smartphone.

According to Maki Sugimoto, an associate professor at Keio University who specializes in AR and virtual reality, "Pokemon Go" uses one of the simplest forms of AR technology. "As highly advanced AR might not work on older smartphones, simple technology must have been adopted so that everyone can enjoy the game," he said.

Since numerous landmarks were designated as PokeStops, where users can collect items to capture Pokemon, people can also enjoy sightseeing while playing "Pokemon Go." U.S. tech company Niantic, the game's co-developer, used data it had started collecting through its free smartphone game "Ingress", which has been available since 2013.

"Ingress" allows players to register the places they visited as their own territories. The game was hugely successful and numerous territories were registered.

Science can appear more advanced in the world of Pokemon than in the real world. But the blend of reality and fiction that has captured so many people would not be possible without the state-of-the-art technology behind the game.

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