Google introduces Project Tango's Android 3D mapping smartphone

Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group has unveiled Project Tango, a prototype smartphone that can track and then map its full 3D motion.

Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group has announced the prototype release of an Android-based 5-inch phone with 3D sensors that it calls Project Tango.

ATAP project lead Johnny Lee said in a blog post that the phone has been designed to track the full 3D motion of the device, while simultaneously creating a map of the environment. Examples of uses include capturing the dimensions of a user's home before going furniture shopping, and assisting the visually impaired navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor environments.

The phone is fitted out with features such as a 4MP camera, two computer vision processors, integrated depth sensing, and a motion-tracking camera. The camera enables the phone to take over a quarter of a million 3D measurements every second, updating its position and orientation in real time and combining that data into a single 3D model of the space around the user.

On the software front, the phone is integrated with development application program interfaces to provide position, orientation, and depth data to standard Android applications written in Java and C/C++, as well as the Unity Game Engine.

From today, developers will have the chance to get their hands on one of 200 available prototype dev kits. But to do so, they will need to pass their idea by Google, explaining what they plan to build with the device in project areas of "indoor navigation/mapping, single/multiplayer games that use physical space, and new algorithms for processing sensor data". The company said it expects to distribute these initial units by March 14, 2014.

Lee said the announcement of Project Tango has been a long time coming, and the aim is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and notion.

"Over the past year, 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," he said.

"Now, we're ready to put early prototypes into the hands of developers that can imagine the possibilities and help bring those ideas into reality."

ATAP is the same research unit that Google recently announced it will not be letting go of after Chinese giant Lenovo purchased Google's Motorola division.