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Pokemon Hunting and the Future of Applied Ergonomics

Many of you have no doubt observed the rapid growth of Pokemon Go. And I am sure you have noticed kids, teens, students, and even mature adults wandering around, capturing digital Pokemon creatures on their mobile devices. There are Pokemon-related stories in the national and local news. You can’t help but notice all the Poke-buzz! I’m not a Poke-fanatic, but my 9-year old son likes Pokemon. Through observing him - initially collecting cards, next progressing to the Pokemon Go app - I see definite parallels between Pokemon and some of my technology related interests.

But what does this have to do with the future of applied ergonomics? A lot actually. In this post I will talk about how mobile technology is impacting applied ergonomics . . . today and into the future. Taking a closer look at Pokemon is an interesting way to begin the discussion.

Some background. One of the key fundamentals of exponential technology, a technology influences behind Pokemon Go, is digitization. When something becomes digitized, it is converted from a material form to a digital form. A very basic example would be a magazine going from a traditional paper magazine to an online/digital magazine. The content of the online magazine might be identical, but the cost to deliver each additional copy of the digital magazine is almost nothing. This aspect is often termed "zero marginal cost". This aspect of digitization, when combined with integrating mobile technology and innovative app/software design, enables us to do new and exciting things. Fundamentally different things than what came before it. Relevant business examples include Uber, Netflix, and AirBnB. These companies leverage exponential technologies (technologies that enable growth at an almost unimaginable rate). These exponential tech companies are rapidly impacting the taxi service industry, movie rental business, and hotel/accommodation industry.

But will these kinds of technologies impact ergonomics? Yes.

Back to Pokemon. The takeoff of Pokemon Go begins with digitization. Prior to digitization, Pokemon consisted of coated paper "cards” with color graphics of characters & information (energy signs, ratings, etc.). The cards were purchased in packs in brick and mortar stores or purchased online (cost of about $5/pack - I know my son has purchased many). These Pokemon cards could be collected, traded, and even used to play the Pokemon game. But with Pokemon Go, a free app is downloaded onto your mobile device. With the app there is no need for the (physical) cards. No need to keep an inventory of cards in stores, nor is there a need for a conventional product supply chain. Instead, the Pokemon characters and card information exist purely in digital form.

About anything can be digitized to some degree. Maybe not entirely, but digitization can enable us to at least experience things in a different form or different way. Are you a doubter? Do you believe what you do as a safety or ergonomics professional can’t be totally reinvented, or reimagined one day in the near future?

About anything (with imagination & ingenuity) can exist in digital form. An example. On college football Saturday’s here in Auburn, AL; I attend football games with about 90,000 other fans. At one end of the field, the game is now displayed on a REALLY, REALLY gigantic new video screen (largest in the college football world). It dawned on me by the second or third game last season . . . this live college football game has been digitized! I'm not talking about the televised version back at home mind you, but the actual game being played inside the stadium. I would speculate that on important plays, well over half of the fans had their eyes glued to the giant video screen instead of watching the players on the field. Their eyes are now on an electronic (digitized) version of the game. I thought to myself, if a live football game can be digitized (creating a fundamentally new, different experience inside the stadium) it may be possible to digitize just about anything.

But more than "digitization" is required to achieve something amazing. For example, simply putting a RULA or STRAIN Index evaluation tool in an Excel spreadsheet or software package is digitization. But this is certainly not in the “amazing” or “fundamentally different” category. I would term this "simplistic digitization". This form of digitization basically saves us from performing the calculations by hand. Don't get me wrong, there are other benefits . . . we can email the completed analysis to someone, file the electronic evaluation away in the cloud for later use, or even create an electronic graph or chart with the info. But the reality is that with simplistic digitization, what we are left with is not that much different from what came before it. You get the point.

The “magic" - creating something fundamentally different, new, vastly improved, etc. - occurs when we go beyond simplistic digitization. This next step comes by leveraging the power of mobile technology and innovative app/software design. Often the magic happens when the app is designed to integrate the capabilities of the mobile device itself. These capabilities consist of wireless internet access, digital camera, GPS, built-in mic, and gyroscope just to name a few. When this occurs, the doors of innovation are opened by several orders of magnitude. At this point we can utilize the same body of content in completely new ways.

With Pokemon Go, digitization combined with the mobile app design enabled Pokemon to “come alive”. The Pokemon Go app integrates the Pokemon digital content (cartoon-like fantasy graphics of Pokemon characters) into the users actual surroundings. Using a mobile device's built-in GPS & camera, the Pokemon app reveals where virtual Pokemon characters are located on a virtual map. As users “capture” the Pokemon (toss virtual Poke-balls at it by swiping a finger across the screen of their device) they see the Pokemon character displayed against the actual background of their surroundings - in a park, on a sidewalk, or even in your living room. My son captured one in my office yesterday.

Summing it up: When things are digitized and intertwined with mobile technology and innovative app design, the door to innovation becomes very wide.

But what does this have to do with ergonomics? A lot actually.

Digital Future of Ergonomics

I believe that digitization and innovative mobile app design will enable us to apply ergonomics much more effectively in the near future. Subsequent blog posts will share how Saturn Ergonomics is leveraging digitization, mobile technology, and app design.

A key objective is to make ergonomics more “accessible” so that a wider range of users can understand & apply ergonomics . . . even the more technical aspects of ergonomics. This accessibility is achieved through innovative design of the content (information, apps, tools, training, etc.) that we provide to the people who apply ergonomics. And this is not achieved by “dumbing down” the content; but instead utilizing more innovative designs, particularly those involving app & tool development. In some cases it is possible for the innovative app design to have features & capabilities beyond the tools currently used by the expert. But at the same time the new design can be highly user-friendly, enabling the non-expert to understand & apply the tool with minimal training. In a subsequent video post I will share a detailed example of this.

Another aspect of making ergonomics more accessible is leveraging mobile technology. Mobile devices, utilizing a mobile content delivery platform, can be very effective at delivering & managing content. It is certainly beneficial to have the content WHEN and WHERE you need it (possibly on a tablet/pad computer). But the power of mobility consists of much more than simply putting content, apps, tools on a tablet. Upcoming blog posts will expand upon this and share how ergoUNIVERSE™, an ergonomics mobile content delivery platform, has the potential to fundamentally change how your organization applies ergonomics.

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts. I have some really cool stuff to share with you.

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Take care,


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