Pokémon Go has been this year’s surprise entertainment sensation. Millions of people are taking part in this enhanced reality game, searching for imaginary monsters to capture, train and use in battles with other players. The game has already caused some controversy, with some praising it for getting gamers to be more physically active while others complain about people being attracted to inappropriate locations – cemeteries, memorials and private gardens, for example – but nobody can deny that it’s popular. So far over 100 million copies of Pokémon Go have been downloaded.
There’s a problem with a smartphone-based game that gets people out and about for the whole day, though. Pokémon Go could have been designed to give phone batteries as much of a kicking as possible. Running the game means almost constant use of mobile data and GPS, which both suck up extra power. The screen never gets a chance to go to sleep either, and the phone is constantly updating and rendering a live game map. These are all power-hungry functions, so quite a few players have found themselves running out of charge at an inconvenient moment.
The obvious solution is to carry a power bank so your phone’s battery can be topped up when required, but while this is practical enough, it seems some people don’t feel it’s really capturing the spirit of the game. A few of them have harnessed the capabilities of 3D printing to turn their plain power banks into creations that feel a lot more in keeping with what they’re up to.
A Pokémon accessory that gives you a real power boost
Matt Carl is one of those who decided he wanted a themed phone charger, and as he owned a 3D printer he decided that would be the perfect way to make one. Starting with a slimline cylindrical power bank bought from Amazon, he designed a case for it modelled on the Pokéball that players use in the game to capture creatures. Matt started with a simple sphere, then added a belt clip, an equatorial groove and – most important – a cylindrical well sized to hold the charger. His initial design is solid, which made for a long print job – sixteen hours on a CraftBot. It also used quite a lot of material, but he’s now refined the design and created a hollow version. This is also much lighter, which never hurts when you’re carrying it on your belt for a few hours.
As you’d expect for a spherical object, the print job needed a lot of support material. The bottom half of the sphere had to be held up during the printing process, as did the equatorial groove and the inside of the charger well. Removing it all was an extensive job, needing pliers and a lot of sandpaper, but it wasn’t too much to manage.
Once the printed ball was cleaned and sanded, Matt hot-glued the power bank into the recess then painted the whole thing with acrylic paints. The result is a very distinctive and completely functional belt-mounted charger that really looks the part.
Of course the drawback with a belt-mounted charger is that it has to be connected to your phone with a cable, which might be inconvenient if creatures appear while you’re charging. To get around this problem another gamer opted for a case styled after a different game accessory – the Pokédex that featured in the original game.
Creating a working Pokédex
The Pokédex is a sort of handheld electronic organiser that stores details of all the Pokémon you’ve captured and how their training is progressing. It’s also featured in enough detail that it’s possible to design quite an accurate replica of it. This particular player, a SparkFun user named NPoole, decided to use the Pokédex design to create a single unit that would hold his phone and a backup battery.
NPoole designed a case that from the outside looked just like the classic Pokédex design, complete with a dummy button and three coloured LEDs; flip open the cover and the screen of the phone can be accessed. Meanwhile, behind the unit is a cutout for the phone’s camera and a space which holds the electronics, a power switch and an 18650 battery. A small power booster steps the battery’s 3.7 volt output to the 5 volts needed to charge the phone.
The Pokédex has proved to be so popular that NPoole is now planning to sell an injection-moulded version with a universal cradle to hold just about any smart phone, but the print files for the original version are available on GitHub. The design is set up for a Samsung S4, but it can be adjusted to hold other phones. Unlike Matt Carl’s Pokéball this design isn’t painted (apart from the dummy button on the front); NPoole printed it in red ABS then polished it with acetone to give it a gloss finish.
3D printing is the ideal medium for anyone who wants to create unique accessories for Pokémon go – or any other game. It’s simple to create designs, or customise them to suit your own preferences. Cases can be made to hold practically any phone or power bank – or both, like NPoole’s Pokédex. They can also be made as simple or as complex as you like. How about a Pokédex where the dummy power button is functional, and activates the charging system? If you’re a really heavy duty player you can add extra batteries for longer life.
Some printed accessories even improve your performance in the game. One player, frustrated by his inability to throw Pokéballs straight – you need to flick your finger up the screen to launch them – printed out an aiming guide that slips over an iPhone 6. With that in place your finger is guaranteed to travel in a straight line, and so is the Pokéball. Of course some might think that’s cheating, but if it helps people enjoy the game it’s easier to forgive.
The Pokémon Go phenomenon shows that technology doesn’t just keep people glued to their seats; it can get them active, too. With some help from 3D printing it can be made even better, so what’s not to like?