Google announced Project Tango on February 20, 2014. It’s a cell phone that captures and reconstructs the environment in 3D, wherever the user points the back cameras. There are 2 cameras, a color imaging camera and a depth camera (or Z-camera), very much like the first generation Kinect. But Project Tango is much more than the Kinect, it performs in real time all the computation of the 3D reconstruction using co-processors from Movidius.
This reminds me of what Dr. Illah Nourbakhsh said in 2007 in the inaugural presentation of the IEEE RAS OEB/SCV/SF Joint Chapter: that some day, we’d be able to wave a camera and capture the entire 3D image of our environment. Project Tango is just that simple, just aim the cameras to the areas to create the 3D reconstruction. To complete a room, you’d have to walk around the whole room to capture all the information.
Using SLAM algorithm, aGPS, and orientation sensors, Project Tango is also able to localize the 3D reconstructed image to its location on earth and relative to the location of the device itself.
Project Tango is running a version of Android Jelly Bean, rather than the latest Kitkat release. What’s more, it apparently is using a PrimeSense sensor, which now is no longer available after Apple’s acquisition of PrimeSense. (Interesting that Google did not push to outbid Apple for PrimeSense. After all, there are plenty of alternative depth sensor technologies out there.) Furthermore, Battery life is very limited. These and other issues will eventually be solved, for real-world deployment.
Applications for real time 3D reconstruction and mapping include augmented reality, architectural design, and many others. Most interesting would be the use in mobile robots to maneuver in the real world. Just imagine in-door drones, armed with this capability, would be able to move autonomously and safely anywhere in a building, monitoring and transporting items from one location to another. The applications are endless.
Google has advanced computing technology to enable real interaction with the physical world, by demonstrating the real-time 3D reconstruction and mapping capability in Project Tango.