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The Future of AR is Now: #3 Project Tango

‘The Future of AR is now’ is a series of blog posts in which four big companies that are developing AR wearables and technologies are aligned in a comparative research. This is the third post already, read the first post about the Hololens here and the second about Meta here.

Several companies have been actively developing AR technology and have been thinking about how this technology will change the world around us. Which company’s vision and technology is the most appealing and which one has the most potential? Today Google’s Project Tango is up for research.

Seeing the world in depth

Google has been  working on Project Tango for a decade already, but a video that was released early 2014 showed tangible plans for the project. After 2014 the project gained huge acquaintance among developers and tech nerds and now, at the end of 2016, the project is coming to real results.

The team behind the project aims to create software (for a mobile phone) that has human understanding of space and motion. This way the device knows what its surroundings look like and can use AR to place digital objects in space and this way allows people to interact with their environment. Where both Microsoft and Meta are focusing on creating AR hardware and technology that supports this hardware, Google is focusing on software and the possibilities for AR use.

We are physical beings that live in a 3D world, yet mobile devices today assume that the physical world ends at the boundaries of the screen. – Johnny Chung Lee, Project Tango’s project leader 

(A device with Tango’s software that can recognize its surroundings Source: Project Tango)

AR interacting with the real world

Project Tango, now called Tango for short, has been talked about for a long time, but hasn’t been quite as popular as the AR wearables that have been developed this year. Wearables do have a higher “science fiction factor”, which attracts more people. But this is the thing: wearables and devices only work well with valuable software. And that’s were Tango comes in.

The aim of Project Tango was to implement three options: motion tracking, area learning and depth perception. You could say the device gets self-aware, knowing where it is, the way it is being held and what its surrounding looks like. That last part is where it gets interesting, especially for AR. If a device knows what’s standing in front of it, it can determine where to place objects. With AR you can then place digital objects behind furniture or buildings and let digital animations ‘come out of’ real boxes, just like the photo below.

(A digital dog coming out of a square object, using Project Tango. Source:  AFP)

It’s coming!

This year the use of Tango’s software in real life came one step closer to reality, with the release of the Lenovo Phab Pro 2, the first smartphone with the Tango software. The smartphone has 3 cameras for making 3D images, which makes it perfect for depth perception. And yes, the Lenovo phone was released in Europe last weekend, available for €499! We believe it won’t take long until Apple will implement AR into their phones as well. This year the iPhone 7 plus was released with double cameras as well and many sources believe Apple will integrate their own AR software into their devices in a not so distant future.

(Pose next to 3D dinosaurs using Project Tango. Source: Youtube/Google)

Future Growth Potential

By learning technology to “see and feel” depth it becomes possible for devices to know where to place AR and how to use it to the best of its ability. Smartphones really become “smart” and this way AR can be used in an even more realistic form.  This means it can be used in gaming and entertainment but also in more interesting and meaningful situations, such as a guide for visually impaired persons, housing projects and realistic storytelling.  The gap between AR and reality is decreasing. It won’t take long until AR in the real world will become so normal that we won’t even notice the differences anymore.

Watch out world, AR is here to stay!

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