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Google unveils depth-sensing Project Tango phone

Google unveils depth-sensing Project Tango phone

Google's Project Tango prototype combines Kinect-like depth-sensing technology with a low-power co-processor to enable real-time 3D mapping and positioning.

Google has released details of a prototype Android smartphone which contains a novel feature: the ability to sense motion and depth through a Kinect-like camera system.

Dubbed Project Tango, the Android-based smartphone prototype is perhaps a little bulky at present - but that's largely excusable when you get a glimpse at what's gone into its creation. As well as the normal guts of a smartphone, the 5in device packs a standard four-megapixel camera, a depth sensing unit, and a secondary motion-tracking camera alongside a co-processor dubbed Myriad 1 from Movidius.

It's this co-processor that allows the Tango to sample its position and depth data from its surroundings up to 250,000 times per second without draining the battery - an issue that had previously prevented companies like Apple, which acquired Kinect creator PrimeSense late last year, from releasing a product featuring the same depth-sensing technology.

While gaming will be a big driving force for the sensor data provided by Tango - a demonstration video shows a glimpse of an engineer trialling an augmented reality game which overlays a forest on top of the real-world environment, while another game rolls a virtual ball down a real-world ramp - Google has bigger visions for the technology. Suggested uses include quick mapping of indoor spaces, such as your living room prior to a furniture purchase, by simply waving the phone around; indoor GPS-style directions accurate enough to find you a particular product on a particular shelf of a supermarket; and even the ability to allow the partially sighted or even outright blind to easily navigate an unfamiliar environment.

Sadly, Google is keeping quiet on how far the technology is from commercialisation, or even whether it plans to release a product based on the system at all, but claims it will be distributing a number of Tango development kits in the coming months. The company has also offered a teaser video showing what the current prototype can do, reproduced below.

6 Comments

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Umbra 21st February 2014, 11:58 Quote
Wow, 3D mapping from your phone/tablet straight to your 3D printer/CNC machine, I want it now!
GuilleAcoustic 21st February 2014, 12:01 Quote
Now that is interesting. I see many possible use of that, especially to help blind people to detect obstacles.
schmidtbag 21st February 2014, 14:25 Quote
I wish I had audio on this computer, I might have to check it out again when I get home.

But as soon as I saw Johnny Lee, my immediate reaction was "oh well that explains a lot". I'm really happy for the guy knowing he's got a job in this kind of thing, he completely deserves it. Engineers like him are extremely rare these days.
Cthippo 21st February 2014, 14:31 Quote
When i read the headline I thought Google had come up with a contextually sensitive system to tell people that the stuff they were posting to Facebook was pointless and to please STFU.
Woodspoon 21st February 2014, 17:00 Quote
*waits for people to start freeking out about privacy issues, data collecting and google mapping the inside of their house for sinister reasons.
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