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June 8, 2016

What is Google’s Project Tango?

by John_A

Google is well-known for working on highly exploratory products and services. From internet-carrying balloons to cars that drive themselves, and everything in between. One such innovation is Project Tango, which is part of the same ATAP division that’s currently working on bringing us the first truly modular smartphone.

Project Tango: What is it?

To explain Project Tango in its most basic form – It’s giving devices the ability to see and understand their surroundings in a similar way to how we do. That means building a custom set of sensors and a processor that can connect the various sources of information, and understand it all.

There are three main parts to the Project Tango technology. First is the motion tracking technology. Using a motion tracking camera, 3D depth sensor, accelerometer, barometer, gyroscope and GPS, a Project Tango-compatible device can tell where it is, and how it’s moving within a specific space or area and which way it’s pointing.

When combined with the second and third features – depth perception and area learning – it can understand the space you’re moving with great accuracy. So if you’re holding it while walking through a narrow corridor and turn a corner, it remembers where you’ve come from and tracks where you’re going. It can even tell where the walls are, and how close you are to specific objects.

Perhaps more impressive within the depth perception is that it can tell whether an object is small and close, or far away and large. It calculates both distance between you and the object, the object’s size, and where it sits in relation to other items in the area.

NVYVE – Google Play Store

Project Tango: What can I do with it?

In and of themselves, Project Tango’s capabilities are useless, it’s what you can use that information for that makes them truly compelling. Again, there are a couple of key uses for this kind of technology that Google has listed so far.

For the average consumer, augmented reality is going to be one of the biggest draws for this technology. Because its sensors are so advanced, it can use the cameras to detect the surroundings, and then place virtual items in the scene in relation to the real life physical objects. That could be something as useful as placing a virtual desk or coffee table in a room to see how it would look, or more interactive gamified items.

There are a few games already developed for Project Tango, one of which is called Bullseye’s Playground which essentially builds an entirely virtual 3D world modelled on a building’s physical layout. Users can then interact with characters or throw snowballs and find various surprises on the way. Google partnered with Target in the States to offer an in-store experience to its walk-in customers using this app.

Project Tango will also let users measure objects accurately. You could measure a table, as an example, using augmented reality to draw a joining line between one end and the other. And what’s great is that – because of its motion tracking and area learning technology – you don’t have to hold the device completely still. It can recognize and measure an object regardless of how far away it is, or even if you move during measuring.

READ: Project Tango demoed in first sneak peek video of 3D-mapped room

What’s more, because it can detect surfaces and knows and measure angles etc. it knows how, and what angle, to place the virtual objects. As a basic example, it knows how to orientate a virtual object to lie on a horizontal surface, like the floor,  it can place items on a vertical surface, like a wall or a chair leg. Again, you can move your device any which way and it remembers where those surfaces are, and how and where you placed the virtual items.

Project Tango can also be used to accurately map indoor locations, potentially expanding Google Maps’ knowledge to reach inside buildings. So if you’re in a particularly huge shopping centre and it’s been mapped using Google’s Project Tango, you can easily find your way using your smartphone.

From a business and enterprise standpoint, Tango could be incredibly useful for estate agents, building surveyors, architects or interior designers who want a more visual way to measure buildings.


Project Tango: Which devices support it?

As of right now, there’s one device available to buy with Project Tango support, and that’s the tablet development kit. It’s not the most impressive device spec-wise, but it’s been made primarily so that developers can build apps and programs that make the most of the project’s capabilities.

The tablet itself features a 7-inch full HD display with Corning Gorilla Glass, built onto a body that’s 15mm thick and weighs less than 400 grams. It has all the sensors and cameras needed to support Project Tango, including a custom NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor and a huge 128GB storage for storing all the data captured and 4GB RAM. It ships with a charging unit, mini dock, USB cable and card removal tool, and costs £256.00 when it’s in stock on Google’s online store.

READ: Lenovo Tech World 2016: Watch the Moto Z and Project Tango phone launch live

For the average consumer, there will be one other device coming very soon. Lenovo will launch its first consumer-friendly Project Tango-equipped smartphone at Tech World in San Francisco on June 9th alongside its next Moto-branded flagship phones.

According to Evan Blass, this device will be called the Lenovo Phab2 Pro, and it’ll be a behemoth. It’s claimed that it features a 6.4-inch screen boasting a resolution of 2560×1400 (Quad HD/2k) and will feature the dual camera system and other sensors required for Project Tango support. It will even feature the Tango logo on the back.

We don’t know how much it will cost or when it’s going to hit the market, but we’ll find out soon and update this article as soon as we do.

It’s been clear from the outset that Project Tango is a very niche capability, but with the huge surge in new VR and AR products being announced, it’s not surprising to see Google (and Lenovo) pushing a new device into customers’ hands. It likely won’t sell like hotcakes, but it could be the start of something much bigger, and might even contribute to Google’s secretive Magic Leap project.

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