Google unveils Project Tango, an Android smartphone to map the 3D world

BY Kelly Hodgkins

Published 20 Feb 2014

project-tango-mainGoogle today took the wraps off Project Tango, a prototype smartphone from the Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. ATAP, now under the oversight of Google’s Android group, has developed a sensor-filled smartphone capable of mapping the 3D environment of a device.

 Tango is a 5-inch prototype Android smartphone with a low-powered, vision-processing  chip, Myriad 1. The Myriad 1 was custom designed by Movidius for Google and can map the surroundings with minimal impact on the phone’s battery. The chip and associated sensors make more than 250 million 3D measurements every second, and then use this data to build a 3D model of the phone’s surroundings.

Google points out the many uses of a phone with 3D mapping technology, which range from everyday activities like shopping to entertainment like games.

What if you could capture the dimensions of your home simply by walking around with your phone before you went furniture shopping? What if directions to a new location didn’t stop at the street address? What if you never again found yourself lost in a new building? What if the visually-impaired could navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor places? What if you could search for a product and see where the exact shelf is located in a super-store?

Imagine playing hide-and-seek in your house with your favorite game character, or transforming the hallways into a tree-lined path. Imagine competing against a friend for control over territories in your home with your own miniature army, or hiding secret virtual treasures in physical places around the world?

The hardware includes a set of custom APIs that’ll give developers access to the position, orientation, and depth of the phone. Android applications, written either in Java, C++, or the Unity Game Engine, can utilize this data in their own apps. Google points out that Tango is not a “final shipping product”, but it is stable enough that Google is ready to get it in the hands of developers.

Google is making available 200 developer phones and will distribute those units to developers who are experienced in Android and can leverage the technology in the Project Tango phone. Developers can submit their information and application ideas to the ATAP group at Google’s Project Tango web site.