The human brain is a remarkable instrument when it comes to navigation and creating mental maps. A person is able find his or her way through an unfamiliar place while simultaneously producing and storing visual maps of that area in the mind for later use. Of course, some individuals are better at this than others, and paper and electronic maps are helpful navigation tools as well. Up until now, though, technology has not been able to match this innate mapmaking capacity of mankind.
All of that could change with Project Tango from Google. Project Tango is a new initiative from the technology giant that could revolutionize how the world is mapped and navigated. Google announced in February of 2014 that the company has built a prototype Android smartphone that acquires the dimensions of a place just by being moved around it. Someone with one of these smartphones in his or her hand, for instance, could progress around a room, like a kitchen or bedroom. The phone picks up the dimensions of the room as it is moved around, creating a 3D map of it using the data it obtained.
The fundamental goal of Project Tango, according to Google, is to create detailed indoor maps. The 5-inch smartphone is equipped with a regular 4-megapixal camera but also includes a motion sensing camera as well as a depth sensor, all built into the back of the phone. These special sensors pick up what is in front of them using depth perception and spatial awareness, making over a quarter million measurements every second. The phone also incorporates a low-power computer-vision processor that actually creates the 3D maps. This technology is not all that different from how NASA’s rovers explore the surface of Mars. Only this type of technology can now fit in the palm of your hand.
There seems to be a wide range of possibilities as to what this technology could do. By creating extremely detailed maps of the world, and indoor spaces in particular, this smartphone could ultimately give precise directions to any given point. There could be incredible ways to use this technology in order to help the visually impaired navigate places they have never been before. This technology could have other implications as well such as ability to allow users to play hide-and-seek in your house with a virtual character. It could also allow a person to walk into a store and know exactly where the item is that he or she is looking for.
Project Tango, with its advanced mapmaking technology, is still in its infancy. So far, Google has only released 200 prototype devices to developers with the hopes of seeing what it is capable of. They have high expectations, however. Google has stated that this smartphone could capture a wealth of data never before accessible to app designers and be used for room and building planning among many other functions. It is yet to be seen whether Project Tango will dramatically alter the world of navigation, but the leader of Project Tango, Johnny Lee, says that the goal of this venture is to bring a human-like sense of understanding of space and motion to mobile devices.
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