In case you have been on an expedition to the South Pole for the last few weeks (and it’s winter there, so that was a bad idea anyway), there is this augmented reality game that was recently released called Pokémon Go. In this game, an image of a Pokémon is superimposed on a real-world location, allowing you to virtually capture the creature. As entertaining as millions of people find the game, it causes a serious drain on your phone’s battery since it uses a GPS signal for Pokémon tracking and you need to have your screen on to catch anything.

One solution would be to use an external battery pack and plug your phone in for several more hours of wandering around. For a different take on this problem, Orem, Utah Resident TJ Hunter decided to make his own physical Poké ball using an 8 inch diameter foam cylinder (or rather two half cylinders), a Particle Electron board with an Asset Tracker Shield, and a generic servo.

When the ball approaches a new Pokémon, it rocks back and forth to let you know there’s a creature around. You can then pull out your phone and capture the Pokémon without having to drain your battery when you’re not actually catching anything.

When asked what inspired this build, Hunter replied that:

My kids and I have been playing Pokemon Go since it was released. I started digging into how the Pokemon Go APIs worked and was interested in how sites like Pokevision worked. I’ve been working with Particle IoT products for years and so I’m always trying to think of new ways to connect things to to the internet. Once I saw that the Pokemon Go data was accessible I realized I could create my own device similar to the official Pokemon Go Plus device that has been announced. It eventually evolved into the Poké ball enclosure.

The first video above shows this enclosure as a nicely painted Poké ball, but the video of the internal parts seen below shows what’s really going on. Mechanically, a servo wiggles back and forth causing the ball to sway in reaction. The two halves attach together with magnets for easy access to the internals, which is also quite clever.

Software for this build would have been impressive enough given a well documented programming framework, but this presented several challenges. Frustratingly, after Hunter first got a working Poké ball, within a few hours the PokéVision website, which he was pulling data from, was shut down by Pokémon Go developer Niantic. He then tried an open source library that connected to the Pokémon servers directly, which was again made unusable, this time by a Niantic server change.

Hunter’s Poké ball wouldn’t die that easily though, and after a reverse engineering effort on some other developers’ parts, the libraries that it ran on were made functional again. After updating this, his Poké ball was made to work again.

Now that everything is working, Hunter can get about 12 hours of use out of his Poké ball. This is in contrast to his phone, which gets a few hours of game play, and his kids’ phones, which have even smaller batteries. They end up carrying around an external battery pack.

Though it’s likely strange enough to the uninitiated to see people walking around playing Pokémon on their phones, carrying a sphere around painted this way must both give some hint as to its purpose and cause more questions at the same time. When asked about the reaction to this device, Hunter says

I’ve been surprised with the attention it has been getting. It’s also fun to see it wiggle and then people will open their phones and … they say “Oh wow! It really does know there is a Pokemon nearby.”

People who see the Poké ball in person after seeing pictures of it are surprised at how big it is. Apparently the photos make it seem smaller than it is. The sphere is 8 inches in diameter.

Hunter adds that he’s very happy with how the build turned out. Though he says that he may work on the paint a little more to touch things up. He said that painting it, which he did with his oldest child Jordan, was the most fun part of the build. It sounds like they really enjoy it, and it certainly makes it better if a few maker skills can be passed on to the next generation!

[via Zach Supalla on Medium]