Google announced a tablet version of their Project Tango 3D mapping technology. It's a fascinating innovation, but is it adding any value?
Project Tango, the 3D mapping and imaging technology that Google debuted in a smartphone in early 2014 has seen its share of interesting applications. After it was released, Google sent the phones to developers to see how they could help build out the technology. For example, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania attached it to a drone to see how it could help pilot the device.
In an effort to continue development of Project Tango, Google has announced an official development kit for a Tango tablet. The tablets, put out by Google's ATAP team, will have a host of impressive features.
"Our 7-inch development kit is powered by the new NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor packed with 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, motion tracking camera, integrated depth sensing, WiFi, BTLE, and 4G LTE (availability will depend on region and carrier)," it said on the Project Tango website.
When the Project Tango Tablet Development Kit goes on sale later this year, it will cost users $1024. For those unfamiliar, Project Tango uses sensors and cameras to 3D map the environment around a users and its own 3D movement within the space.
"Project Tango is an effort to develop a mobile device that has a human-scale understanding of space and motion using customized 3D sensing hardware and software. The hardware and software technology is able to track the motion of the device in real-time, provide centimeter-scale positioning indoors, and potentially generate maps of the environment," a Google spokesperson said.
Carl Howe, a vice president at the Yankee Group, notes that while the technology is highly interesting, we do not have a consumer application for it just yet.
"They're not ashamed about saying it's a project and not a product. They're trying to recruit developers to it, but it's really research," Howe said.
Google is following one of its typical strategies for product development by throwing a unique technology out to the developer community and seeing what they can do with it. Google is known for taking risks with its "moonshots," and the ATAP division is definitely a part of that philosophy. But, Google relies heavily on developers to find useful applications. One such application could be to help build out their map data.
"One of the most attractive things from Google's point of view is they could certainly save a lot of money on mapping the real world if they could crowdsource some of the data gathered from these devices," Howe said.
Of course, there are privacy concerns for technology like this. For example, the question of whether or not Google would be able to 3D map the inside of your house. Only time will tell if this even becomes an application. But, if it does, there would probably be an option to opt-in or opt-out of the service.
"In my mind, the announcement of the Tango Tablet indicates Google's deeper commitment to bringing 3D imaging technologies to mobile devices and to the Android ecosystem. Like with the Tango Smartphone, the Tango Tablet is Google's way of seeding the developer community to create exciting new experiences before the technology goes mainstream with the big mobile OEMs like Samsung and HTC," said Sanjay Patel, CEO of 3D startup Personify and an engineering professor the University of Illinois.
According to Howe, in many ways Project Tango feels like technology that is searching for a problem to solve. Also, this isn't really a novel technology, as Google has been using the streetview cars for Google Maps for quite some time. Although the scale and packaging of the technology are new and do provide potentially unique applications, especially if they can be brought to an affordable price point.
"I think Android is trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up," Howe said. "It's become a fairly mature smartphone OS, and people are always beating up on Apple for lack of innovation. The problem is that Google is adding lots of technology, it's not clear the technology is taking the product forward, it's simply adding features. That's always a dangerous place to be, because when you add features you typically add cost. When you add cost, you become less competitive."
Google declined to comment about product roadmap or production plans.