Google announces Project Tango, a prototype smartphone that tracks 3D movement

Daniel Bader

February 20, 2014 8:37pm

Facebook may have just spent the equivalent GDP of a small European country buying a smartphone app, but Google wants users to create 3D game environments by waving a phone around a living room. In other words, the moonshot is alive and well.

Project Tango, from the Advanced Technology And Products group (ATAP) that Google kept when it sold Motorola to Lenovo, is a prototype Android-powered smartphone that is able to track space in real time. It does this using three cameras, including one specific to motion-tracking and another dedicated to depth perception, and two vision processors from a company called Movidius.

“Our current prototype is a 5” phone containing customized hardware and software designed to track the full 3D motion of the device, while simultaneously creating a map of the environment. These sensors allow the phone to make over a quarter million 3D measurements every second, updating it’s position and orientation in real-time, combining that data into a single 3D model of the space around you.”

The benefit to consumers and developers would be to theoretically recreate real environments virtually using a single small device. This could help in myriad ways, from cartography to gaming to augmented reality. “We are physical beings that live in a 3D world, yet mobile devices today assume that the physical world ends at the boundaries of the screen,” says ATAP’s Johnny Lee.

While the device itself is by no means ready for mass market, Google has made available 200 prototype dev kits to “create more than a touchscreen app.” They want developers to use the phone’s sensors and custom processors to “sense 3D motion and geometry, [to] push the technology forward and build great user experiences on top of this platform.” The implications of Tango also extend to the visually impaired, who could use a specialized version of the software to more accurate map out living spaces and determine the correct route around indoor locations, like malls and stadiums, that have yet to be accurately mapped.

Tango is from the same team behind Ara, the prototype modular smartphone platform that Motorola introduced last year. Since then, Google has made huge inroads into robotics, purchasing a number of high-level companies like Boston Dynamics, and shifting big-name personnel like Android founder Andy Rubin into head of robotics. It will be interesting to see whether Google uses the real-time processing from these camera/chip combinations in their robotics endeavours going forward. It would make it much easier for these machines to “see,” as the data would be made available to them in real-time.

  • Rich

    Can’t wait for companies to get on Project Battery Life.

  • Mäuri Freitas

    great , now even for the project names google copies Microsoft. ZERO CREATIVITY

    • cs098

      I don’t think ms owns the name tango. Are you serious? lol

    • Mäuri Freitas

      Tango is an old music style so they can’t copyright it, but bing (or google) the name “Windows Phone Tango” and you’ll see Microsoft came up with with the name long time ago

    • cs098

      I don;t think google knows or cares. And who would it’s just a name.

      And I’m pretty sure others used the word tango for products and projects as well.

    • FlamesFan89

      stop trying to make bing happen, it’s not going to happen!

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      What makes you think that Google deliberately copied a project name from ms? That name has been used quite a bit throughout the years by numerous companies. It’s the final release name that will dictate anything substantial… For example: We have the HTC One X, the MOTO X ( I have both of those fine Android offerings ), and now ms has released the NOKIA X which is in my opinion a very poor attempt at an Android phone. Wanna keep talking about who is copying who when it comes to naming their products? Pretty much everything has been copied now to some degree…I’m more interested in the innovation and improvements that are being implemented along the way.

    • Mäuri Freitas

      Nokia is releasing the phone not MS, Nokia doesn’t belong to MS yet, if you don’t believe me bing it and you’ll see. By the way, they didn’t even unveil the phone and you’re already criticizing it, lol. At least try the phone or wait for the reviews to come out man. Anyways, even though I did like the UI and the fact that they got rid of google maps and play store I’m not so sure I would buy it, unless it has a FM transmitter and it costs $150 or less, could be a nice backup phone to use with Petro Canada Mobility’s anytime plan

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      True…ms doesn’t technically own Nokia yet, but they sure have an influence over them. This phone sounds a lot like the one that was in Nokia’s pipeline when ms suddenly took a serious interest in acquiring them. Don’t forget – Nokia was handed massive amounts of influence money to be exclusive towards WP…and while they sat waiting for ms to get their act together, Nokia’s business suffered dramatically. Ms knows what they were doing from a business perspective…bring the value of a company down so they can buy it on the cheap. The fact that we are told this is going to be a forked version of Android with no backend from any of Google’s best apps/services makes this a failed attempt before it even gets out the gate. Makes as much sense as Google putting out a WP product and in the process making it hard to utilize what ms is famous for – ms Office and Outlook. But then again, wouldn’t it be ironic if Google produced a WP device the was better than anything ms made to date?

    • FlamesFan89

      It is far more likely that they are just pulling “tango” from the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (Alpha-Bravo-Charlie…) in place of Project T, rather than copying Microsoft at anything.

  • It’s Me

    So kinect on a phone?

    • Lyndon Boychuk

      Pretty much yup. Does it surprise you that Google is doing this instead of ms?

    • It’s Me

      A little, but mainly because MS talked about this last year. They said they planned to integrate kinect into Nokia phones once they acquired them. That, and Apple bought primesense last year too, who was the original developer of kinect, with most expecting the purchase meant Apple was going this route as well.

  • Patrick Serrano

    What now Apple?

  • Harold Mitchell

    Simply a way for Google to collect and monetize even more of your private data….next thing ya know they’ll tell you when you need to take a crap.

  • Richie_Peterson

    So Google is going to map our entire world including our homes and offices. I guess that will make it easier for Skynet to send in their drones and take over the world.