Google Maps has conquered the great outdoors. Its Project Tango is an effort to do something even more ambitious for indoor location and other physical spaces. Tango goes beyond 2-D mapping and extends into the creation of 3-D imagery, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Tango is a way, using computer vision, to digitally recreate the physical world and make it available for a wide range of uses. The project has been around and known among developers since roughly 2014, but according to Bloomberg, Google is ramping up Tango and will feature it prominently at Google I/O this week:
The company plans a big expansion of the technology this year and ultimately wants to make it ubiquitous, according to a person familiar with the situation. Job postings and recent updates to Tango’s developer software show steps toward this ambitious goal. Google will showcase progress at its I/O developer conference near its Silicon Valley headquarters May 18 to 20.
VR and AR are very hot topics right now. A range of VR headsets and hardware are rolling out, and Facebook focused heavily on VR at its recent developer conference in San Francisco. Microsoft has AR project HoloLens, and Apple has a VR initiative in development, among others.
Here’s how Google describes Tango:
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.
Tango-enabled devices (smartphones, tablets) are used to capture the dimensions of physical space to create 3-D representations of the real world. There are Tango tablets and smartphones for developers. However, Lenovo Group will be releasing a consumer Tango-enabled smartphone this year, according to Bloomberg (and others I’ve spoken to). Mapping and spatial capture can also be crowd-sourced with Tango, which is one of the more interesting aspects of the project.
Tango’s technology can be used to create imagery and layers on top of real-world indoor spaces. In addition, developers can use Tango to create Virtual Reality experiences based on real-world objects and locations. There are already a wide range of partners and apps that have been developed using Tango technology.
While there are many potential use cases, Tango can be used for AR advertising, content and in-store virtual signage. This has already been tested by Aisle411 and Wallgreens. Aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn is cited in the Bloomberg article discussing the indoor/AR advertising potential for Tango.
It’s a compelling technology. However, from an AR standpoint, everything must be experienced through the camera lens and screen of the mobile device. This is a significant challenge for AR, but this is also where Google Glass 2.0 might come in, enabling access to AR layers through more conventional-looking eyeglasses.
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