Is it Cheating to use a Drone to Play Pokemon Go?

Pokemon GO

Image license CC, Bago Games

A young man in Massachusetts who duct-taped his phone to a DJI Phantom 3 in order to play Pokemon GO without leaving his backyard has been alternately called a genius and a cheater.

Pokemon GO is a newly released GPS-based game that requires players to find Pokemon at “pokestops” in their area, which can mean driving around (for players of driving age) or going on sometimes long walks.  The game has been hugely popular: it has sent Nintendo stock higher, topped downloads of popular social media apps like Tinder and Snapchat, and has launched a myriad stories about players running into different adventures while in search of Pokemon.  “It’s all getting a bit weird,” reports VG247 in an article describing players being lured by armed robbers; finding dead bodies; having their homes identified as “Pokemon Gyms”; and using drones rigged up to play without having to travel.

Gizmodo reports that the Massachusetts player trying to rig up his drone to play used an app called AirDroid to link his phone screen to his computer.  The app allows a user to access their phone over the internet.  The player attached his phone to his Phantom 3 drone using duct tape, and was able to interact with the phone over WiFi.

The bad news is that it didn’t work very well.  “If I was on data, it would work much better,” the youth told Gizmodo. “The drone can go around 1,500 feet away from me and that is the estimated range of using Pokemon GO on a phone duct-taped to a drone.”  Restricted to the broadcast area of his WiFi, he was only able to fly in a 50-foot radius around the router: with the nearest pokestop a mile away from him the drone wasn’t much help.   Additionally, the phone interfered with the drone’s compass, taking it off GPS mode.

Theoretically, with a stronger signal, a different drone, and in a more populated area with closer pokestops, players might be able to make it work – but as drone regulations stipulate that you can’t fly your drone beyond your line of sight or over people anyway, it would seem that players will have to actually travel to play.

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