Will Verduzco · Feb 20, 2014 at 05:00 pm

Google Project Tango to Bring Kinect-Like 3D Awareness to Smartphones

When Google sold Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for $2.91 Billion at the end of last month, many were worried about what this would mean for the future of the team behind Motorola’s modular smartphone project code named Ara. Then one week ago, the ATAP team announced that it would be moving from Motorola to Google. This naturally lead to speculation regarding whether the ATAP team had anything else cooking in their secret ovens. The answer is now here: Google Project Tango.

In its current form, Project Tango is a working prototype of a 5″ smartphone featuring custom hardware and software that is able to, in their words, “track the full 3D motion of the device, while simultaneously creating a map of the environment.” Then through this custom hardware and environment mapping, the device is able to make over a quarter-million measurements per second, allowing its position and orientation to be updated in real-time. In other words, rather than simply knowing its acceleration and orientation like what is possible with gyroscope and accelerometer sensors in current smartphones, Tango also creates a virtual 3D map of its environment and relative position. The current development prototype (obviously) runs Android, and it includes development APIs capable of delivering position, orientation, and depth data to standard Android apps, as well as the Unity 3D Game Engine.

So what can something like this mean? The possibilities are both far reaching and extremely exciting. For example, rather than simply being able to navigate to a particular destination using GPS, these APIs (along with robust mapping data) could allow shoppers to find exactly what they are looking for in large stores. Similarly, such technology could also be used to help the visually-impaired navigate through unfamiliar areas, or it can even be used as the core technology behind an entirely new genre of augmented reality game, adding greater depth and possibilities than what’s currently possible in games such as Ingress.

But if you stand back and think about what makes all of this possible, Project Tango isn’t truly anything new from a technological standpoint. After all, Microsoft’s Kinect platform uses similar technologies to map objects in 3D space. However, this is the first mobile implementation of this sort. Rather, it’s about implementation and what it can mean for developers in the future. As such, the ATAP team is currently looking for developers to create killer apps for the platform.

Starting in the middle of next month, the ATAP team will disseminate 200 prototype dev kits to developers looking to create innovative applications built atop Project Tango’s core APIs. Developers looking to get in on the Project Tango Dev Kit, head over to the Project Tango page and submit your killer app idea. Who knows, you may get lucky and create an augmented reality version of Flappy Bird.

What are your thoughts on Tango? Is this the future of augmented reality, or is this just Google’s way of reducing our level of privacy further? Let us know in the comments below.


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