VR World

Project Tango: Google's Next Step Towards Mapping Everything


Google wants to embark on yet another journey. One that takes their commitment to taking in real world data and converting it into real usable information. More specifically, they want to help people get around their environment and to better understand the world around them in three dimensions. And right now, that gets as good as augmented reality overlays and Google Maps Streetview. So, Google has employed the work of Johnny Lee, one of the foremost experts on head tracking and depth tracking to help them solve this granularity problem. They have decided to call this one Project Tango.

By creating a device that you can hold in your hands, Google is allowing every single person with one of these Project Tango devices to improve the data Google has on this world. Sure, maps and pictures of the world are great from the street and satellite, but what about inside? What about mapping insides of office buildings, malls and apartments? What if Google can not only lead you to the mall itself but the exact store’s location based on the depth data and then tell you when the store has moved. Because now Google has real physical data about where things are rather than trusting whether or not the mall has provided them with a map.

Furthermore, what if you can turn any environment into a 3D augmented environment. No longer waiting for a simple overlay to give you information, but rather give you rendered information in 3D where it is important. This presents a whole new reality to augmented reality and actually improves the relevance of things like Google Glass by giving Glass more depth data than it is currently capable of capturing on its own. Frankly, I think that Google Glass should have this kind of functionality more than anything else. The next version of Google Glass almost MUST have Tango built into it if it is going to be a really effective device. Imagine the ability to take something into your hands and scan it into your phone/computer using Google Glass, it instantaneously improves the relevance of Glass and helps anyone looking to turn things into CAD models quickly for a whole host of things including 3D printing.

Note that the Project Tango phone does not have two cameras, but rather a camera and a depth sensor

The current device was built with collaboration from a huge group of tech companies, universities and research institutions. A few notable collaborators are BSQUARE, Omnivision and JPL. BSQUARE is interesting because they are a maker of prototype reference design platforms and have vast experience in supporting developers with devices and there’s a 99% chance that they are the makers of this device. And interestingly enough, they are the maker of Qualcomm’s reference smartphone devices, which makes me think that there’s a very high probability that this phone is running a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. But their reach as a company goes beyond just hardware as they do a lot of software development tools as well. Omnivision is an interesting partner because there is a very high probability that the sensors being used in the Tango project are likely their own and could actually be very high resolution sensors. Picking a well established partner like Omnivision means that this technology could easily be scalable in a matter of months. The last interesting partner that Google has on Project Tango is JPL. While I don’t know exactly what JPL contributed to this project, there are a ton of applications that this could actually be used in BY JPL and I think some of JPL’s work in mapping foreign surfaces will prove useful in Project Tango. Furthermore, I believe Project Tango will also help JPL in the future when we need to map large surface areas while using very little data and using it efficiently.

The potential applications for something like Project Tango are even more vast than what was thought up with Kinect. It is only a matter of time until Google starts harnessing this new data for improved location data and application developers start making apps that are more aware of your location with granularity that they never had before.