Originally announced back in 2014, Project Tango relies on a combination of a number of cutting-edge technologies to develop a device that can understand its location in the physical world in the same way a human does.
At the heart of the Tango development kit (the second generation of the device, and the first after it switched from phone-sized to tablet-sized hardware) is a cutting-edge suite of sensors. The tablet includes a 4 megapixel camera at the back, which works with a motion-tracking camera and 3D depth sensing to give the tablet the ability to “see” in three dimensions.
Those visual sensors are complimented by a highly accurate accelerometer, gyroscope and barometer, which between them work to give the tablet a sense of its own position and movement: the accelerometer measures movement, the gyroscope rotation, and the barometer height. On top of those, the device also has GPS, an ambient light sensor, and a compass.
The array of sensors is paired with a software library which puts all the information together to build an understanding of the area the device is in. Potential applications demonstrated by Google include scanning software, which can build a 3D model of an area simply by waving the device around the room; augmented reality apps, which can place a 3D model of, for example, a car or a piece of furniture in the room and have the user physically walk around it; and the ability to make precise measurements simply by tapping two locations on a screen.
Larry Yang, Tango’s product manager, says that the most impressive use of the device, which goes on sale in the UK on Wednesday, so far has been to build indoor mapping functionality. “We’ve seen developers build products where you can say ‘find me the Oreos’, and the device will give you an accurate map through a store to where they are kept – even with no GPS or signal at all”, he said.
The Project Tango development kit currently sells for $512, and lets developers who want to get a head-start with the technology explore its potential. But Yang says it will likely be the last example of its kind, as independent hardware firms move into the market. Intel recently announced its own support for the Tango software.
Although the hardware is currently associated with Android, he adds that there’s no reason to expect it to stay on the platform forever. He cites the example of a drone equipped with the Tango technology, which would be able to navigate far more successfully through a built-up area than if it relied on GPS alone.
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 25th August 2015 14.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010