LG will make the first consumer mobile device capable of modelling its environment in 3D
Google has announced that its Project Tango, an effort to teach smartphones and tablets to perceive depth through sensors, will appear in consumer devices as early as next year, with LG manufacturing the first batch of hardware.
Project Tango devices are able to map the surrounding environments and create detailed 3D models of physical objects. As part of the project, Google has already produced its own reference smartphone and tablet designs, and transferred them into the hands of the developer community.
The announcement was made on the last day of the Google I/O annual developer conference, which also saw the launch of the Android Auto system for cars, Android Wear smartwatches and Android One – an initiative that aims to create high quality, affordable smartphones for developing countries.
Project Tango, run by the Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), formerly a division of Motorola, wants to help computers understand space and motion the way humans do.
According to Google, the 3D imaging technology developed by the project could improve both outdoor and indoor navigation, help the disabled and spawn a new generation of entertainment apps. However, the idea of supplying a company like Google with detailed information about the user’s environment is sure to unsettle privacy advocates.
Such technology would also be instrumental in getting robots and drones to navigate safely – an area of special interest for Google, which last year purchased eight robotics companies, including the legendary Boston Dynamics.
As part of Project Tango, Google had previously developed a 5-inch smartphone prototype equipped with several IR depth cameras, and a 7-inch tablet prototype. Both were shipped to select developers.
During his presentation at Google I/O, Tango project leader Johnny Lee showed a demo in which a handset created a 3D map of a geometrically complex environment in real-time, while the user was simply carrying the Tango-enabled device.
Lee said that the company was also working with game developers to create immersive ‘augmented reality’ video games. He showed how, once the 3D model of a building is complete, it could be turned into an enchanted forest, complete with virtual characters and puzzles.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work to do when we think about what we can do when our devices have this awareness,” said Lee.
Google is famous for its tendency to release raw hardware to developers, hoping they will come up with use cases for some of its more unusual devices – that’s exactly what happened with Google Glass, which now features a wealth of apps and retails for £1000.
Meanwhile, Intel is about to start shipping RealSense – a tiny, affordable circuit that can fit in a laptop bezel. It features an infrared sensor alongside an HD camera and microphone, and can enable gesture interface, voice commands, 78-point face recognition and 3D object scanning.
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