Google's Project Tango smartphone maps the world in 3D

21 Feb 2014

Google is offering developers prototype handsets that can understand "space and motion" in 3D

Google researchers have created a smartphone that sees and understands the world in 3D - and can map its environment in real-time.

Project Tango, as the work has been dubbed, hopes to "give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion," said researcher Johnny Lee.

"Our team has been working with universities, research labs, and industrial partners spanning nine countries around the world to harvest research from the last decade of work in robotics and computer vision, concentrating that technology into a unique mobile phone," Lee said in a Google+ post. "Now, we’re ready to put early prototypes into the hands of developers who can imagine the possibilities and help pull those ideas into reality."

The researchers have mocked up a phone using the technology, which features bespoke components, specialised cameras and sensors. It can track the full 3D motion of its movement, creating a map or model of the environment it's moving through by capturing more than a quarter of a million 3D measurements a second.

Why would we need our smartphones to see and understand as we do? Lee suggested such technology would help with giving directions, especially inside buildings, and could be used to find items in a store, take measurements and to assist blind people. Plus, it opens up new possibilities for gaming.

"Imagine playing hide-and-seek in your house with your favourite game character," Lee said. "Imagine competing against a friend for control over physical space with your own miniature army."

While Project Tango is still an early prototype, and the APIs remain in "active development", Google wants developers to get involved and start creating apps.

Project Tango

To that end, it's doling out 200 prototype development kits by 14 March. Interested developers can apply here.

Pushing forward

Project Tango is the first work to come out of Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group.

Sundar Pichai, the head of Android, said ATAP was made up of a "small band of makers and believers", who will "continue exploring the future of computing and where it's headed".

"The goal is to accelerate the development of promising technology in the hope of advancing the entire ecosystem," he explained in a Google+ post.

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