When Google agreed to sell Motorola to Lenovo it didn’t include the Advanced Technology and Projects hardware group. This is the team that is developing Project Ara, a modular smartphone concept. Today, Google has announced that the same team is also working on Project Tango.
Project Tango is a 5-inch smartphone that uses a customized hardware and software allowing it to take full 3D scans of an environment and at the same time creating a 3D map of it. The device comes with the usual compass and gyros which are commonly found in mobile devices. It also comes with a Kinect-like visual sensor that allows it to scan the immediate environment.
Google announced that Movidius’ Myriad 1 vision processor platform is used to do the computing tasks of this device. Normally, having 3D sensors on a mobile device was not only expensive but also needed a lot of power which can drain a battery quickly. The Myriad 1 vision processor requires less power in the processing of vision data which a regular processor can’t do without sucking in a lot of power. Think of it as a co-processor similar in function to Apple’s M7 chip but much more powerful. The M7 tracks and reports motion data to the main A7 chip on the iPhone.
Movidius CEO Remi El-Ouazzane says that the Myriad 1 has three key strengths. First, it offers intelligent vision to a smartphone by reading and interpreting the real world using its camera. Second, it is power-efficient making it possible for the first time for smartphones to have a 3D mapping feature. Finally, there are tools available for developers to tap into Myriad 1 to create new apps.
Johnny Lee, head of the Project Tango program, said that “The goal of Project Tango is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion. Over the past year, our team has been working with universities, research labs, and industrial partners spanning nine countries around the world to harvest research from the last decade of work in robotics and computer vision, concentrating that technology into a unique mobile phone. Now, we’re ready to put early prototypes into the hands of developers that can imagine the possibilities and help bring those ideas into reality.”
Google currently has 200 prototype development kits of the device which are allocated for projects in the areas of indoor navigation/mapping, single/multiplayer games that use physical space, and new algorithms for processing sensor data. The company has also set aside some units for developers who can come up with other ideas in making use of this technology. All units are expected to be distributed by March 14th, 2014.