Most of us like to think that we have a pretty good memory, but what if our recollection of places that we've been to was absolutely perfect? That's one of the ideas behind Google's Project Tango, a new type of Android smartphone that constantly scans our surroundings, taking meticulous notes as it goes.
The prototype Project Tango phone looks pretty much like any five-inch smartphone, but in addition to the normal camera that any teen might use to take selfies, it has a separate motion-tracking camera and a depth sensor that can determine the exact distance of any object in its field of view. These input devices take 250,000 images and readings every second, then pass the data through a pair of vision processors to create a 3D map in real time.
Just what you would use this for is something the Project Tango team is only starting to explore, but there are several intriguing possibilities. Because you will be carrying around what is essentially a 3D map of your home, you could go to a furniture store, and see exactly how that new sofa is going to look and fit in your living room. Another no-brainer would be for blind people, offering them a sort of audio map, helping them navigate once they're already inside a building. The possibilities for gamers are pretty far-reaching too. For example, instead of creating a virtual world on a screen at your desk, games could be transposed into the actual space of your house using the stored maps of your space. Then you could move around your house to play the game, instead of sitting on a chair pushing a joystick around.
Here's my main issue. For this mapping system to work, it sounds like you would need to walk around with your phone held out in the open so the cameras and sensors can pick up what they need to. I suppose that's okay when we're actively trying to help the phone learn, but most of us usually walk around with our phone tucked neatly away in a pocket. Perhaps they need to incorporate some kind of a headset camera device, you know, like that one those nice folks over at Google make. Wait a second, wouldn't that just be a different floor in the same building?
This project also raises a bunch privacy concerns. I can just see a bunch of NSA officials salivating at the thought of getting their hands on this type of data, and then there are the commercial possibilities that Google can tap. For example, if the phone sees that your house is well stocked with shoes, will you start to get pummeled with shoe advertising while browsing online?
The reason Google has taken the wraps off of Project Tango at this early stage, is because they're looking for 200 early developers that they can send development kits to. If you think you might be able to help, check out the Google Project Tango link below. But first, watch the video to get a quick overview of Google's vision for Project Tango.