21 Sep

Interview Googles John Hanke head of the Niantic projects on Field Trip

first_imgA few hours before the start of the Ingress “Operation Cassandra” event in New York City, I sat down with Google’s John Hanke to talk about the Niantic Labs and the two projects currently being worked on in that department.John Hanke is a geek’s geek. His face lights up in an almost childlike fashion when he describes a desire to see everyone with access to an Iron Man-style augmented reality experience in their lives. At its core, that’s the all consuming goal of Niantic Labs — to augment reality in a way that is fun for all different kinds of users.In truth, the former director of Google Earth and Maps saw incredible potential in Project Glass, and sought to create a solution that would allow users to explore the world around them without being bombarded with notifications pointing to every gas station and convenience store as you walked down the street. There are plenty of things in the world around us that, even though you may have lived blocks from it all your life, you may never have known about without taking a few minutes to indulge in the Niantic Field Trip app.For those unfamiliar with Field Trip, it’s a service designed to collect third party data about the world around you and present it to you when you’re nearby something interesting. The statue in the middle of your favorite park, or a historical landmark nearby your favorite lunch spot for example. The app pulls from dozens of resources to show your historical or interesting information about those locations. The Field Trip app for Android and iOS is nearly a year old, but according to Hanke the goal was always to have this service available as a sort of showcase app for Google Glass.The Glass version of the Field Trip app was made available this week, offering short bursts of the same interesting information based on your location. Having used Field Trip on Glass for a couple of days now, it’s a great addition to the Glass app lineup and does exactly what it claims to do.So how did this seemingly history focused fountain of information spawn a highly addictive real world AR crawler? Hanke chuckled at the question and then quickly explained that Ingress — Google’s augmented reality video game — was a separate thought from Field Trip. Where Field Trip was geared toward encouraging people to learn more about places they were already at, Ingress was built on a desire to encourage outdoor play in a digital world.For those who have never played, Ingress is a digital battlefield upon which players from two factions fight for control over landmarks that seem to be hemorrhaging a substance that can only be seen through the special scanner tool built into the app on your phone. Ingress started out as a very simple beta with a limited set of features that worked much better in cities than rural areas. The game has grown significantly to include more features, better visuals, and a rich storyline that includes global events where hundreds of people show up to play.Hanke expressed surprise that Ingress caught on and took shape the way that it did. Their goal was to create groups for users to join in order to create the traditional clan style gameplay, but before they had gotten to it many users had formed dedicated Google+ pages to their local faction developments. It wasn’t long before the Niantic team found dozens of regional factions popping up on a weekly basis, all with their own goals and strategies. Some groups were found to be significantly more tactical than others, splitting map areas into zones and assigning patrols, while others banded together on bicycles and conquered large areas by being able to move quickly. Their most recent series of events, dubbed Operation Cassandra, has been the largest global event the game has had to date to determine the fate of characters that have been created during the assembly of the game’s storyline.John wasn’t able to answer definitively on whether or not Glass would see its own Ingress app, but like any good geek he was certainly willing to speculate on it for a moment. The Niantic team watched as several early Glass users tried to load the Ingress APK on the Explorer Edition hardware to very limited results, and Hanke made it clear that if an Ingress experience were to exist it would need a different app. He also was quick to remind me that while he couldn’t say yes for sure, Glass was certainly in mind when Niantic was formed.last_img

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