Google’s Project Tango Will Allow Your Phone to See the World Like Never Before
Google’s latest output is Project Tango, an Android smartphone that studies and maps the surrounding world as you walk around with it in your pocket. The phone is equipped with a slew of cameras and vision sensors to give it a deeper understanding and a whole new perspective of the surrounding space. The project derives from the Advanced Technology and Projects sector formally within Motorola. It is one of the few pieces of Motorola that Google has opted to keep. The remainder has been sold to Lenovo.
The phone is able to develop 3D maps with the exact dimensions of the room you are in as you walk around in it. With this ability, the smartphone will ideally gain an even more elaborate understanding of its user’s world in order to seamlessly direct them from one place to another. “The goal of Project Tango is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion,” says Johnny Lee, leader of Project Tango.
The technology within Tango, developed by the company Movidus, uses a motion-tracking camera and a depth sensor built into the phone that detects motion and objects in the area while they are moved around a space. These sensors, in addition to a standard 4-megapixel camera, are what give the phone the ability to see the world much more like a human than a phone.
The data collected from the many sensors and cameras is then fed to Movidus’ custom Myriad 1 low-power computer-vision processor, which then sends it through a set of application program interfaces to applications in the phone that can utilize the information. Since this data has a myriad of uses in terms of apps, Google is sending out 200 prototypes of the Project Tango smartphone to developers who can learn how to utilize this new tool.
Presently, Google is showing off apps that use this data to layer a distance heat map, which displays red for close and blue for far, over what the camera is already displaying. Other apps use the information from the motion sensors and gyroscopes to map out paths of movement down to 1 percent accuracy and plot them on a 3D map. Yet another uses the camera to draw the scene in front of it in real time.
These starter apps are just the beginning of the many potential uses for this exciting new technology, because Project Tango is open-source. This means that the data collected and placed into 3D-mapping apps could be used for anything from room or building planning, the creation of hyper-realistic augmented reality games, or how to find your car in a crowded parking garage. The depth-tracking and motion-sensing technologies could help the visually impaired “see” further ahead of them than things like walking sticks have allowed in the past.
Looking even further ahead, the technology behind Project Tango could certainly be incorporated into the GPS functions of your average smartphone, allowing it to give the most accurate directions yet. Those blank areas on your phone’s maps due to insufficient data could grow to be fully-developed side streets the more time you spend driving down them with your phone in the car. With the ability to look ahead and map out potential traffic jams or obstacles, your phone could warn you to get off the highway an exit early in order to avoid a delay.
Though Project Tango is still in its early stages, it won’t be long before this type of advanced technology will be available to everyone. And when the technology is broadly available, the world of apps, games, and GPS will definitely be upgraded.
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