Exploring Google Tango

Google TangoProject Tango is a line of Google smartphones and tablets featuring the ability to accurately track position in space with a new depth-sensing camera. Tracking position on a traditional smartphone is limited and has a large margin of error, making the technology largely unreliable in this application. The unique camera on Project Tango devices allows them to “see the world in 3D,” taking photos that capture the distance from the camera rather than capturing color for each pixel. Project Tango devices track movement of objects in the camera’s frame. Because of this, they can accurately estimate how the camera must have moved to cause objects to shift in this way. The tracking ability in the Project Tango devices opens up exciting new possibilities in a variety of fields.

“At Academic Technologies, we are very excited about Project Tango. It is extremely promising technology, and quite easy to program for,” says Ryan McGrail. Ryan has been leading the exploration of Project Tango at Notre Dame, and is in the early stages of understanding the device and its potential. “I am quickly discovering how I can apply these new features to the apps we create. It is a very well-built device, and lends itself to imaginative implementations in our apps,” he says. Ryan has also observed shortcomings of Tango. The 3D camera is not effective for scanning objects in the distance, or outdoor environments. If the camera is obscured, it attempts to interpret motion from a black image. This can lead to inaccurate data. “The good aspects of these devices far outweigh their problems,” Ryan says. He believes that the kinks observed in the developer version of Tango will be worked out before the devices hit the market.

Currently, Ryan is using Tango in a partnership with Notre Dame’s architecture program. They are developing a blueprint-reconstruction tool that would allow the user recreate a space inside a Tango device by simply walking around the building. The 3D model created with Tango easily translates into blueprints of the space, and can be imported into architecture programs. Beyond this current project, Ryan sees vast potential for Project Tango at Notre Dame. “Tango can be used as a handheld frame to see the world…We could use the devices to map out buildings on campus, such as the main building. With the models saved to a few Tango devices, Notre Dame admission officers could take them around the country, and allow prospective students to “walk” around the buildings for themselves.” Tango could also be utilized in the classroom, creating an opportunity for instructors to virtually bring students to a museum on the other side of the world, or for designers to see their work come to life. “The possibilities are truly endless, and this is just one of the simplest ways to implement Project Tango,” Ryan says. We look forward to continuing to explore the Google Tango technology, and will keep you updated as we progress.

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