What Exactly Is a Google Project Tango Enabled Smartphone for Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality has been a part of our lives and part of our smartphones for quite some time. It’s actually 3 years now since IKEA unveiled their 2014 catalogue, which gives users the ability to place virtual furniture in their home to get a better idea about the final result. However, applications such as this rely on a technology that fundamentally doesn’t correspond to the way we humans perceive the space around us.
Now, a new generation of smartphones is around the corner, and it promises to bring a new kind of spatial perception to Android devices, one that would allow for a multitude of exciting, never-before-seen experiences. The underlying technology is called Project Tango, and we already know how the first Project Tango-enabled smartphone is going to look like.
Introduction to Google Project Tango
Google describes Project Tango as a platform that gives phones and tablets a newfound sense of space. It has been in heavy development for years, under the leadership of Johnny Lee, a former Microsoft Kinect team member. The beginnings of Project Tango can be traced back to Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group.
This skunkworks team and in-house technology incubator created by former DARPA director, Regina Dugan, has already made its mark with Project Ara and Project Jacquard. The former codename stands for an upcoming modular smartphone made of a central module and an assortment of additional modules that expand the core functionality. And Project Jacquard revolves around a touch-sensitive fabric technology that makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms, as described on the project’s official website.
A big breakthrough came last summer, when Qualcomm and Intel announced the release of Project Tango reference devices. Developers could, and still can, use these devices to start working on interesting applications and have them ready by the time the first consumer smartphone hits the market.
What can Google Project Tango Enabled Smartphones Do?
According to Google, “Project Tango technology gives a mobile device the ability to navigate the physical world similar to how we do as humans. Project Tango brings a new kind of spatial perception to the Android device platform by adding advanced computer vision, image processing, and special vision sensors.”
It can be argued that many of Tango’s highly advertised abilities are just dramatic enhancements of some of the things our smartphones can already do. As explained by Lenovo, the makers of the first Project Tango-enabled smartphone, “Project Tango combines 3D motion tracking with depth sensing to give your mobile device the ability to know where it is and how it moves through space. With Project Tango, developers can create applications that explore physical space around the user, including precise navigation without GPS, windows into virtual 3D worlds, measurements of spaces and games that know where they are in the room and what’s around them.”
All of this is possible thanks to a combination of inputs from various sensors, including an infrared emitter and camera, wide-angle camera, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and barometers. Together, these sensors are able to get a good sense of the world around us. Developers can then use three different sets of APIs (Application Programming Interface) to integrate Tango into their applications and games.
Any Tango-compatible smartphone or tablet is essentially a combination of the Microsoft Kinect with the Wii remote controller. As such, it can seamlessly blend virtual objects with the real world, thus enabling a mixed reality experience similar to the HoloLens, but much more affordable.
The First Consumer Phone to Feature Project Tango
This year, at CES 2016, Lenovo has finally introduced the first Tango-ready smartphone, the Phab 2 Pro, a successor to the original Phab. What sets the Phab 2 Pro apart from other smartphones is its extra-large screen, which measures 6.4 inches and has a resolution of 1440 x 2560, and a wide-angle camera coupled with a special depth-sensing unit.
The smartphone itself is just 8.9 mm thick and is made entirely out of aluminum. The integrated fingerprint scanner enhances the overall security, while the 2.5D curved glass panel makes the device look like a true premium product.
Understandably, the sophisticated technology behind Project Tango requires quite a bit of processing power. That’s why Lenovo is using a special Tango Edition of the Snapdragon™ 652 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of built-in storage space.
Pictures can be taken using the 16 MP rear camera or 8 MP front camera. Both camera have a super-fast autofocus and work hand-in-hand with 3 microphones for 360 voice capture with noise-cancelling. Finally, a spacious 4050 mAh battery with 2.4x turbocharging is there to ensure that customers can enjoy the plethora of new experiences without any limitations.
The Phab 2 Pro is coming this summer, and the device is plan to launch globally for less than $500. While it is definitely a big step for the Project Tango, it will likely aa few iterations of this technology before it becomes a viable option for the average user. After all, 6.4 inches of screen real-estate is not that great for day-to-day usage.
Early Games and Applications
Those who attended Google I/O 2016 had the opportunity to witness what smartphones compatible with Project Tango, such as the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, will be able to do in a very near future. A custom made application for Lowe’s helps customers find the item they are looking for and see how it will look when they place it in their home.
Trixi Studios have introduced a game called Phantogeist, where players can experience what it would be like to live in a world inhabited by phantom-like creatures. The game features hidden portals, projectile missiles, and some pretty scary moments.
Worth mentioning is also the partnership with the American Museum of Natural History. The museum is working on an educational application, which would let users place a dinosaur in front of them, change its size or take a picture with it.
Lenovo claims that there should be around 25 apps at launch, ranging from games to location-based apps and utilities. They will be available in a special app store that will come pre-installed on the Phab 2 Pro. It’s expected that there should be up to 100 apps available by the end of the year.
Project Tango and Project Tango-enabled smartphones are likely to change the way we use our devices to interact with the world around us. They open up new, interesting possibilities how to apply modern technology to help us accomplish our daily goals, learn, and relax. The first smartphone compatible with Project Tango already seem very attractive, and we can only imagine what the next few generations will bring.