Google's "Project Tango" hardware has caught the interest of many in the technology sphere, as the product combines a high performance application and graphical processor unit into a device equipped with multiple cameras and sensors, able to accurately map its immediate environment in 3D. However, whilst the technology sounds impressive, it has either been considered as something of a demonstration without a definite purpose. Yes; the modelling can be used to help blind people navigate or to simplify the process of creating augmented and virtual reality gaming environments, or for indoor mapping (integrated into Google Maps for example), but so far nobody has taken the technology and created a viable product. Project Tango's Product Manager, Larry Yang, believes that this is going to change in 2016.
First, to detail the hardware involved in the current Project Tango device, this is a 7-inch tablet based around the NVIDIA Tegra K1 chipset. The Tegra K1 includes a GPU consisting of 192 individual processing cores. The chipset is backed up by 4 GB of RAM and the device as 128 GB of storage complete with a MicroSD card slot. The device runs Android 4.4 Kit Kat, has a 4,960 mAh battery and onboard LTE plus high performance WiFi. However, whilst these specifications are impressive and it appears that the Tango tablet might make a very respectable gaming device, this is not the point of the Tango tablet – instead it's the slew of sensors designed to allow the device to analyze its environment. The tablet comes with a 3D depth sensing camera and a motion tracking camera to back up the usual sensor suite encompassing an accelerometer, barometer, compass, GPS and gyroscope.
However, the potential for gaming is not lost on Larry Yang as he explains: "We thinking gaming is a great use case for Project Tango. You've seen our hand-held AR and VR experiences, where the Project Tango device serves as a magic window into a virtual world. You can now literally walk through stories and place objects in your physical world. For example, the team from Possible Games ported their popular puzzle game Adventures of Poco Eco to take advantage of Project Tango's motion tracking ability, where the user actually walks around in order to find the key camera views required to unlock levels. And Elemental Studios ported their Bike 3D Configurator to enable you to place a virtual bicycle in front of you that you can customize before ordering." The Project Tango tablet is capable of doing what required a room full of servers and tri-pod mounted sensors a couple of decades ago, thanks to smaller and cheaper, but equivalent or higher performance components and sensors. Other features that may be applied to gaming include, "Project Tango's wide-angle camera gives the device the ability to know their cm-scale position in the room without using GPS, WiFi or beacons. The depth sensing camera allows the device to detect objects and surfaces. Together, Project Tango can procedurally generate a game that reacts to the actual position of the user and the objects around her." Larry's enthusiasm for the potential of the hardware is palatable.
When might we see Project Tango consumer hardware available for sale? Larry explained that both Qualcomm and Intel have successfully integrated Project Tango into their mobile chipsets and because of this, we could be seeing manufacturers ship compatible products "in the next eighteen months." This might be the tail end of 2016, or early 2017 – three years after Google introduced Tango. And of course, between now and early 2017, we are going to see ongoing development of mobile chipsets and devices.