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Project Tango 3D-sensing Android phone demoed

Feb 21, 2014 — by Eric Brown 1,240 views

Matterport demonstrated a 3D model built with Google’s new Android-based Project Tango 3D sensing phone, which targets indoor navigation and immersive gaming.

Project Tango was announced yesterday by Google and Motorola’s Advanced Research and Projects” (ATAP) group, which Google will retain when it sells Motorola Mobility to Lenovo. The 5-inch Project Tango smartphone prototype augments a basic Android phone with a pair of Myriad 1 vision co-processors from Movidius. It also integrates a variety of sensors, including a compass, gyros, and Kinect-like 3D visual sensors for integrated depth sensing and motion tracking.

Mapping a room in real-time with Project Tango
(click image to enlarge)

The device records over a quarter million 3D measurements every second, helping users precisely track their location in space, according to Google. Potential applications include indoor navigation and immersive gaming, augmented reality applications, shopping applications for navigating brick-and-mortar stores, and robotic telepresence. ATAP even mentions potential future aids for the visually impaired.

Google has posted an application sign-up page for developers interested in getting in on one of the initial batch of 200 prototypes, which are expected to be shipped out by March 14. The development kit currently includes APIs for providing position, orientation, and depth data to standard Android apps. The platform supports applications written in Java, C/C++, and the Unity Game Engine.

Project Tango prototype
(click image to enlarge)

One of the first chosen developers, a computer vision and perceptual computing development firm called Matterport, has already churned out a 3D map of a cluttered room using the phone. TechCrunch posted a video of the creation of the Matterport 3D model, which appeared to be a simple matter of wandering around the room recording all the objects and corners. The software then stitches this together into a navigable 3D environment.


Matterport CEO Bill Brown is quoted by TechCrunch as saying the phone is roughly equivalent to a more expensive 3D recording device of its own. The main difference is in the lower resolution of the prototype’s 4-megapixel camera, which he said is a minor obstacle.

Immersive gaming application using Project Tango
(click image to enlarge)

The prototype is also far more battery efficient than the other 3D cameras, including the one used in the Kinect, thanks in large part to the pair of Movidius Myriad 1 video co-processors. Ireland-based Myriad is keeping the custom processor design under wraps, but TechCrunch added a few new details, saying it produces over 1 teraflop of processing power on only a few hundred milliwatts of power. By comparison, most 3D camera chips require about 1 Watt. The processor is said to enable motion detection and tracking, depth mapping, recording, and interpreting of spatial and motion data in 3D.

TechCrunch speculates that the main focus for the device will not be smartphones, but Google Glass. Whether incorporated in a phone or wearable, the technology could be a major new avenue for immersive gaming , and it should help traveling business people find their way around large buildings and tech campuses, where GPS often breaks down. The ability to identify objects could enable far-ranging augmented reality applications for training or operating complex machinery.

ATAP is also behind the Project Ara announced last October for building modular smartphones. Other cutting-edge ATAP projects include eliminating passwords in favor of wireless-enabled pills or tattoos.

Project Tango demo video

Further information

More information on Project Tango, as well as an application to join the core development community may be found at Google ATAP’s Project Tango web-page.

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