Google has recently announced Project Tango, a new smartphone initiative from their Advanced Technology and Projects group. Google has demonstrated the project with this Youtube video. The Project Tango prototype is capable of tracking motion in three dimensions. It is also able to create a map of the surrounding area. Google is working on development with companies like Bsquare, universities like ETH Zurich and George Washington University, and groups like the Open Source Robotics Foundation.
Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects(ATAP) group began under the same name as part of Motorola. It is led by Regina Dugan, who formerly led the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. When Google sold Motorola, it made sure to retain the ATAP team. The Tango project is being led by Johnny Chung Lee, described as Project Lead at ATAP in the Youtube demonstration. Before joining Google and ATAP, Lee had a significant role in the development of Microsoft’s Kinect, which shares Tango’s ability to map its surrounding area.
Google has been accepting applications for two hundred Project Tango developer handsets, and it expects to find all two hundred recipients of the handsets by March 14. Some of the handsets have already been allocated to groups working on navigation, mapping, and games that utilize the physical environment. The remaining handsets could go to individuals or groups who pitch new and interesting uses for the technology.
Project Tango has some roots in the field of robotics, particularly in the area of creating maps of the surrounding environment. That kind of environmental map is very necessary for robots that might potentially operate with or around humans. Robotics is also the field that stands to gain quite a bit from Project Tango. Cheap and readily available, mapping technology could very well enable more commercial development of robots able to operate around humans. Google has also stated that it intends to share some Tango-related information and technology with open source groups, including open source robotics groups.
One immediately clear use for Project Tango is depicted in the Youtube demonstration video. A Tango smartphone could quickly model an interior location and give visually impaired individuals verbal instructions on how to navigate the environment. This would clearly help the visually impaired in a new environment while allowing them autonomy.
Another interesting component to Project Tango is how it might tie-in with Google Glass. Both projects are about taking smartphone technology and integrating it into our physical world. Glass has faced criticism over how it inserts cameras and other possibly invasive technology into situations where people are not used to considering technology. Project Tango could face similar criticism, but the fact that it is a phone rather than a pair of glasses could make it more palatable to most people.
On the whole, Project Tango offers some fascinating possibilities. It could be the next step in integrating technology into our everyday environment. However, it could also be years away or even off-putting to many people.