Niantic, the creator of pokemon gorecently invited me to their London offices to see its new mobile pet sim peridot, I watched a presentation, tried out the game — which is released May 9 on iOS and Android — and went to hang out with some of the developers, including the computer scientist leading the small research team that is working on the machine. Learning is building technology. peridotPotentially unprecedented new augmented reality technology.
But no demo can better demonstrate its potential peridot The more than half an hour I spent with the game was a few days later, when I was given a trial version to try at home. I have two young kids (ages 4 and 6) who are instantly enthralled by watching the cute creature from Niantic’s invention, called Peridot, hatch on my phone’s screen and run around my house. We pet it, feed it, throw a ball for it that appeared to bounce off the walls in my living room, and watch it run back and forth around furniture, only slightly erratically.
Checking in on Baby Dot’s wishes, I noticed that she wanted to eat a dandelion, which needs to be plucked from grassy areas. Our backyard is paved, but there’s grass across the street, it’s a pleasant spring evening, and there’s a little time to kill before bath time – let’s go! We got out and the kids started screaming that Peridot was running ahead of us down the driveway. They were impressed that the game could tell the difference between grass, leaves, and paving stones, so the creature could retrieve different items from each.
I noticed that my Peridot wanted to receive bait from a Habitat, which the game calls a map-based local point of interest shared by all of Niantic’s AR games (in pokemon go, they are called Pokéstops). I noticed it was only a short distance away and I hadn’t seen it before (I’m not a pokemon go player) – why not? we proceed. It turns out that the point of interest was a Victorian stink pipe (I live in London, can you tell?), which looks like a lamppost without a lamp and is actually a kind of giant straw used to trap harmful gases. was designed to drop down the sewers, over the heads of the good queen’s subjects. I had never heard or paid attention to these things before. We returned home having fun, getting some unplanned exercise, and learning a bit about local history (and leveling up our pets). Niantic couldn’t have scripted it better.
peridot is a very specific pet sim, something in the style of Nintendogs, crossed with Niantic’s vast mapping data resources and a new generation of AR technology. You interact with your pet to keep it happy and earn it evolution points, taking it from baby to teen to adult. As an adult, the creature will want to be “released” into a habitat where it can breed with other Peridots (animals are sexless) and raise a new baby for you to care for. (Creator Zia Fogel says the plan was for players to permanently say goodbye to their adult Peridot at this point, but testers got very upset, so you hang on to them.) Have created enough variables that each one is genetically unique, and each pairing will produce a new, equally unique child.
You can imagine Niantic building location-based features into this style of game; Take your pets for walks, forage from different environments, engage in breeding with other local players as a sort of social interaction. You can imagine a gentle but insistent flow of objectives, progress, currencies and rewards built into this kind of free-to-play live service game, plus customization features (yes, your pet can wear a hat).
But Niantic Has Another Mission peridot, which is meant to push the boundaries of AR and change the way people think about it. The idea is that your pet should on some level be able to sense the real world that it (or rather, your phone camera) is seeing, and respond to it. The work is being carried out by Niantic’s R&D team, based on six floors of a narrow office building located in the Covent Garden area of London, and is led by Gabe Bostow, Niantic’s Chief Research Scientist.
The AI research work begins with accurate mapping of 3D space and pathfinding around real-world objects, as well as obstacle occlusion, meaning your pet will realistically disappear behind chairs and tree trunks. (Bosto seems frustrated that the design team requested a shadow showing Peridot’s position behind the object be put back into the game, lest players become too stressed about losing their charges.) It continues with “semantic segmentation,” as Bosto calls it, using machine learning to train the code to tell the difference between grass and water, recognizing TV screens so your Peridot can tell you about screen time. scold, and identify classes of objects such as pets, people, and plates of food. Niantic says the neural networks needed for this weren’t possible on mobile phones even five years ago. peridot Definitely uses your phone’s CPU and GPU, if that has any effect on battery life.
peridot began life as a tech demo, and although the pet sim genre is a natural fit for Niantic’s efforts, you can tell. In some ways it still feels more like a skunkworks project of a tech company hungry for progress than a labor of love from a game developer. Boso’s team is sharing its findings with the academic community, while the code will be available to third parties for licensing through Niantic’s Lightship Suite of development tools. You can imagine the benefits of the technology for robotics or other assistive technologies; Bosso likes to imagine a future where he can hold up his phone to see the location of pipework behind walls and under floors when he’s doing some home improvements. There are probably more sinister uses for this combination of environmental machine learning with Niantic’s industrial-scale geopositional data farming, but don’t think about it — look how cute these little critters are!
In practice, the technology isn’t perfect: it can’t reliably spot food, can see water better than outdoors, and has trouble with windows. But there’s an undeniable magic to watching your Peridot walk around your house, jump on tables, and notice your cat. It feels a little alive, and it will only feel more alive as the game is released and players start training Niantic’s neural net. As Fogel says, a game about raising tiny creatures and introducing them to the world is a good thematic match for technology that will improve its understanding of the world and the realism of its behaviors over time.
I think it’s impressive. But it’s not my reaction that matters, or that tells you whether peridot will succeed. My kids were happy with it in seconds, and my 4-year-old was running around the house calling for “Pennydot” within minutes. Plus, now we all know about Victorian stink pipes.