Google's Tango project, which is developing real-time 3D vision technology for mobile
devices, is about to be tested in tablets. A new report indicates the tech giant will begin making 4,000 prototype Tango tablets next month.
According to a report in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, the tablet will feature a 7-inch diagonal screen, two rear-facing cameras, infrared depth sensors and advanced 3D software. The publication cited "people briefed on the company's plans." The tablets could be released before Google's annual developer conference in June, and are expected to be made available to developers.
Project Tango was born in Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. Originally part of the Motorola Mobility division that Google acquired in 2012, the group remained with Google when the Motorola unit was later sold to Lenovo in January.
In February, a prototype smartphone was demonstrated that is capable of creating a three-dimensional map of an actual environment in real time. In the same month, the company issued an invitation for developers' proposals that utilized Tango's capabilities. It prepared 200 prototype development kits for those developers willing to "push the technology forward."
Google has also said that its Tango team has been working with universities, research labs and industrial partners in nine countries over the past year as it has developed the capability for a mobile device.
According to Google, Tango specs for the 3D-capable smartphone included a rear-facing 4 megapixel RGB/infrared camera, a 180-degree-field-of-view fish-eye rear-facing camera, a 120-degree field-of-view front facing camera, and a 320x180 depth sensor -- plus a vision processor with one teraflop of computer power.
The smartphone version uses custom hardware and software to take a quarter of a million 3D measurements of the surrounding space every second. Possible applications include visualizing the exact dimensions of a home before going furniture shopping, navigation for the visually impaired, or a guide for shopping that uses a smartphone app to lead customers to the exact spot where a product lives on the shelves. Gaming and simulation also offer a wide range of possibilities.
A tablet version would not only permit additional sensors to be added if needed, but the larger screen could improve the ability to navigate a space made more detailed and realistic by 3D mapping. It would also make more feasible the ability to overlay and use, for instance, architectural drawings on top of a mapped real space. And games and simulation would provide better experiences with a larger screen.
Charles King, an analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT, told us that "the fact that [Google] has moved from an initial 200 units to 4,000 tablets indicates there's an interest" in the developer community, and developers will make or break the technology in the market. He added that Facebook's recent acquisition of the Oculus virtual reality technology "has jump-started interest in immersive technology."