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Pokémon Go testing AR that lets Pikachu and pals hide

Niantic shows off technology that lets digital images interact more realistically

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Pokémon Go players will interact differently with the creatures they chase, when new augmented reality (AR) tech is put in place by Niantic. The feature dramatically changes how most people interact with digital imagery, allowing AR to not just float on top of a real scene, but move between, inside and even behind real objects.

Niantic gave the new feature — which is still in the testing phase — a little preview on YouTube showing Pikachu, a favorite and one of the more illusive of the Pokémon, racing about on a sidewalk, running around a set of planters, and even behind people as they walked down the street. The tech comes from its recent acquisition of UK firm Matrix Mills, a machine learning company.

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The tweak may not sound like much to those used to virtual reality (VR) and other digital imagery that can be designed to do whatever someone wants. But AR has different constraints: it blends real imagery — what's viewed inside the camera of a mobile device — with something virtual. That mashup is what gives it the term, augmented, the changing of something that starts as real.

But the imagery is always a bit off. You can't really scale virtual images into a real setting, and without depth, digital images seem to just hang sometimes in the air. If Niantic were to stitch the new tech, which it calls Niantic Occlusion, into its game, or other product, that would certainly create more believability in how AR is viewed.

Niantic is best known for its wildly successful AR game Pokémon Go which attracted more players than Twitter followers at its height in 2016. That summer saw masses of people meeting in parks, tracking and capturing animated creatures with names like Zigzagoon and Sentret.

New updates are coming, though, for another Niantic AR game, Ingress, the company said in its announcement, with other new games expected this year as well including the highly anticipated Harry Potter:Wizards Unite game.

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