Hands on: Google’s Project Tango can see the world in 3D
British developers can finally get their hands on Project Tango, Google’s 3D-mapping tablet that uses a variety of sensors to map the physical world. Project Tango’s development kit — a prototype that until last month could only be bought in the US — is now available in the UK for £256.
Launched in March 2014, Project Tango hopes to become an essential new tool for creating 3D models of the world we live in. Its potential applications include creating augmented and virtual reality games, indoor mapping and even helping blind people navigate.
WIRED was able to go hands-on with Project Tango during a demo event at Google’s London offices. The tablet itself looks unremarkable, but this isn’t the same as any old Android tablet. It combines a wide-angle camera with a regular 4-megapixel camera, plus an infrared meter and infrared camera to sense depth. An accelerometer, a gyroscope, a GPS and a barometer supplement the optical department.
The ability to quickly build a 3D map of a given place (better if indoors) is Project Tango’s main feature. Capturing a perfect replica of a room is an impressive feat for a tablet that costs a little over £250. WIRED used a tablet, but the technology will soon be embedded in smartphones too.
The resolution is still too low for modelling small and medium objects — you can’t use Project Tango to scan a cup and 3D print one, for instance. But it’s good enough for locations: a 3D map of a shop could be personalised to accurately show where each product is. As Project Tango can memorise the places it visits, it would automatically present the right map as soon as it recognises the location.
Scanned locations can also be mixed with augmented reality. We were able to pace around a customisable sports car placed into an empty room using AR. While the object chosen for the demo wasn’t ideal — potential car-buyers arguably want to touch the real thing — other applications sound convincing: imagine if you could position AR furniture in your living room to see how well it fitted.
Finally, Project Tango can transform any location into a videogame. WIRED cavorted around Google’s offices smashing zombies, killer robots (combining the tablet with a plastic rifle), and purple monsters. The experience was enjoyable, although the tablet interface isn’t particularly immersive.