Google has announced that is has developed a prototype Android five-inch mobile phone that includes a depth sensor alongside a motion-tracking image sensor. The phone is the result of a one-year R&D initiative called Project Tango. According to material at the Google website this 3D-tracking phone could provide a solution to location mapping and tracking, as well as being a platform for new types of games and for robotics applications.
The company says it will hand out part of an initial build of 200 prototypes of the phone to software developers for them to develop applications on. "We want partners who will push the technology forward and build great user experiences on top of this platform," said Google on its website.
Although Google does not indicate who has provided the depth sensor, it is notable that the only image sensor vendor in the Project Tango partnership is OmniVision Technologies Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. Other notable partners include inertial MEMS sensor provider Bosch; Movidius Ltd. of Dublin, the vendor of the Myriad 1 vision processor; and Paracosm of Gainsville, Fla., which offers software that converts 3D scans into computer models.
"Our goal is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion," said Johnny Chung Lee, project leader for Project Tango at Advanced Technology and Projects at Google. The current prototype is a five-inch mobile phone with custom hardware and software designed to track the 3D motion of the device while creating a 3D map of the environment using its image and depth sensors to make more than a quarter million 3D measurements per second.
The Android phone includes development APIs to provide position, orientation, and depth data to standard Android applications written in Java, C/C++, and the Unity Game Engine. However, these early prototypes, algorithms, and APIs are still in active development.
Remi El-Ouazzane CEO of Movidius, commented: "Project Tango is truly a groundbreaking platform, and we look forward to seeing the innovation the developer community achieves with unprecedented access to the Movidius Vision Processor."
Google did not provide any information on how much power is consumed by the tracking and 3D-mapping function. It is likely that this is considerable. Not only might application-specific processors such as Myriad-1 be required to minimize energy consumption, but improvements also may be required before the function can be deployed in a commercial phone. Google did not indicate how soon a depth-sensing phone might be released.
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