People can interact with the Pokémon in the real world. Developers combined different technologies in order to integrate the objects in our environment. It is, amongst other, a combination of location-tracking, data analysis and augmented reality (AR).
Augmented reality has been used for years in the military; the first functioning AR systems was adopted by the US Air Force in 1992. We are also used to see AR when we watch TV or on navigation systems. The historical break that makes Pokémon Go novel is that AR has gone mainstream thanks to the smartphone era. We talk about AR when computers generated elements that are added to your environment, not to be confounded with virtual reality (VR) that you could experience in Oculus Rift for instance. Those devices completely replace your environment with a simulation but augmented reality builds on top of what is already present. The game uses the camera to analyze the space around you and places the Pokémon in the environment on your screen.
The game is closely related to Google Maps as the founder of Niantic, the company that created Pokémon Go, was in charge of it when he was working for Google. During the programming of a different Niantic game called Ingress a few years ago, portals were placed in real places called landmarks. The developers had to build databases of historical landmarks all over the world and wrote a program that sorted through those landmarks. Pokémon Go follows the technique developed for Ingress.
At first sight, Pokémon Go seems to apply known technologies. What direction or angle should we have to investigate to possibly find out if the game qualifies as R&D?
Smartphone application can sometimes use very advanced algorithms, such as in Shazam for instance. When it was released, the smart music recognition algorithm could be definitely categorized as R&D.
If the R&D does not seem to be found in the technology, the combination of those technologies should be investigated. Most of the time, complexity arises from trying to find the best trade-off between conflicting requirements, e.g. usability vs performance. Conflicts between operability and resource utilization could lead the developers to the way of experimental development.
Determining if a new tool qualify as R&D is not always straightforward and could need the support of a trained scientist. Our consultants would definitely need a talk with the developers for further investigation!