Lenovo and Google’s ‘Project Tango’ phone could give you indoor directions

Posted on 05/12/2018 by

Lenovo teased a new phone at CES, which it says will be the first consumer smartphone with Project Tango tech. Project Tango will give a smartphone or tablet the ability to ‘see’ more like a human eye.

Google’s Johnny Lee addresses attendees at CES last week. Photo: Claire Connelly

Two of the tech industry’s biggest players have combined their know-how to answer one of the age old smartphone problems, showing off a 3D mapping technology that could allow for indoor navigation.

A central hindrance for Google Maps is its inability to tell you where you’re going while there is a roof overhead. Google’s Project Tango, a platform first revealed in 2014 that gives a form of computer vision to mobile devices, could solve all that. Last week at The Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Show, Lenovo joined the tech giant to announce they would be producing the first consumer phone with the technology.

Lenovo’s Tango-enabled phone doesn’t just produce an indoor maps app, but can create virtual environments based on your real time physical environment, taking in visual information in much the same way as the human eye (and brain). That data can then be crunched for informational, problem solving or augmented reality functions.

“Whether it’s location, indoor navigation, gaming or utility, we wanted to bring all of these capabilities in a device that is readily accessible to consumers,” said Lenovo VP and General Manager Jeff Meredith.

Tango’s technical product lead Johnny Lee demonstrated several applications already being developed for the platform.

Lee and his colleague played a virtual game of Jenga using the stage as the platform on which to balance the coloured bricks. And to prove that virtual pets are the cottage industry that refuses to die with the Tamagotchi, Lee unveiled a (perfectly adorable) virtual kitten which users (presumably children) can train and play with in their actual home while using a tablet or mobile phone.

The platform has applications for interior design as well, and could relieve you of the need to take the exact physical dimensions of your room with you while trying to pick out furniture. Google announced it was partnering with design company Elementals on an app which lets you shop for furniture and uses the exact same mapping tech to allow users to see what that couch or fridge will look like in their home before making any purchasing decisions.

“With Project Tango the smartphone becomes a magic window into the physical world by enabling it to perceive space and motion that goes beyond the boundaries of a touch screen,” said Lee.

“By working with Lenovo we’ll be able to make Project Tango more accessible to users and developers all over the world to both enjoy and create new experiences that blend the virtual and real world.”

Tango obviously has some decent potential for the architecture, development and real estate industries as well.

Lenovo announced its intention to launch a smartphone designed specifically for Project Tango by July 2016 with an RRP of less than $500.

Meredith told the press pack that the company had spent more than a year on development for Project Tango.

“We don’t believe this technology is one with a short lifespan,” he said.  “We believe this is a fundamental shift in consumer platforms”.

To prove it Google and Lenovo announced a joint incubator program to attract app developers for the new virtual reality platform. Google’s Lee said the company had already engaged more than 5000 developers who are working on apps to coincide with the release later in the year.

The announcement came less than a day after Intel announced that pre-orders were open for its Real Sense 3D cameras, which were developed alongside its Project Development kit which launched in August last year.

Real Sense is another technology that can map 3D environments in real time, and the technology showed up at CES on everything from tablets to drones. Intel is currently taking pre-orders for a phone designed for developers which is compatible with both Real Sense and Project Tango.

Claire Connelly covered CES as a guest of Lenovo.

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