Project Tango is the future, but maybe not in the way that you think

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| February 21, 2014

Our constant thirst for innovation in this industry is hardly ever satiated these days it seems. There is a lot going on and a lot of devices to choose from, but most of the time you're going to find that most ideas for smartphones are just similar variations from one to the next with different designs, specs and operating systems. For the most part, it seems we are okay with this. I'm okay with this, I like smartphones the way they are; inevitably, though, the smartphones we know today will eventually change majorly one way or another. As it turns out, we already have a few examples that are heading in that direction with flexible displays and touchless controls. The most interesting new idea to spring up, however, is Google's Project Tango.

You may have heard of Project Ara, a project that is being put together by Google and Motorola (even after Motorola had been sold) where the supporting idea is that one day, people will be able to customize their own smartphones how they like it by way of block modules. While the main board of the phone will always remain the same, the blocks are interchangeable. You would be able to choose your screen, processor, camera, memory allotment and the like on an as-needed basis. They're each individual components. Although it's hard to say whether the idea will catch on or not at this point, the idea itself is pretty cool in a lot of ways.

The same team behind Project Ara already has another project planned after Ara's completion, and that's Project Tango. Tango is completely different than Ara. Where Ara's focus is to help eliminate the amount of e-Waste in our world and simplify the upgrade process, Tango's main focus is to help bring mapping to the future with 3D mapping through your smartphone. The phone is able to record a real place like your living room, kitchen, workspace or anywhere and turn it into a 3D model. You might be wondering why you would need to ever create a 3D map model, and the truthful answer is that you might never want to create a 3D map model; as of right now, you probably won't have much use for it unless you're a Real Estate agent or something to that nature. However, in the future you can possibly use this 3D mapping technique to implement in robots so they don't run in to things - like a Roomba, but instead of bumping into things it can just be programmed where to go ahead of time. It could also help out those who are blind or have a hard time seeing, as holding out one of these smartphones could alert the person when to move. Kind of a cool idea once you think about it.

I don't see Project Tango as a final means of acquiring 3D mapping so much as a stepping stone at this point in time. It's not hard to figure out that holding that phone out in front of you all the time for mapping purposes probably won't be that comfortable. Imagine holding a camera out in front of you all the time. When 3D mapping a big building, 3D mapping without holding your hands out for what seems like forever would make things a lot easier. For this reason, I'm starting to see a lot of potential within Google Glass. 

Google Glass, up until this point, never really intrigued me. I can admit that perhaps at one time I was a little more paranoid than I ought to be, but even after realizing that I never really wanted to go out and get a pair. In fact, I still don't; however, I think if they eventually port this 3D mapping technique to Google Glass that I would be able to view it as more than just a plaything and rather like an actual, useful tool. 

3D mapping from Project Tango brings a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to services like Google Maps, which until this point has only been able to give you a quick preview around certain buildings, and usually from a distance. Perhaps one day Project Tango will be able to advance Google Maps to the point where Maps doesn't have to end once you arrive at your destination. For large buildings, parks and venues, I can see an internal map being very helpful to have on hand.

I have to hand it to Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group for being able to come up with this idea. Implementing it in a smartphone first is probably a more acceptable and adoptable idea than Google Glass at this point, and it will be able to give people a better idea of how it works. Between this and Project Ara, I am rather impressed with the progression being made.

Readers, what do you think about Project Tango? Do you plan to pick up one of these devices one day so you can 3D map your world, or is this something that you don't think you would be interested in? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Images via iDownload Blog, ReadWrite