Google has been working for the last year on 3D smartphones that aim to give the devices greater awareness of space and motion in natural environments.
The goal of Project Tango is to give mobile devices "a human-scale understanding of space and motion," wrote Johnny Lee, project lead at Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group, in a Google+ post.
The awareness of space and motion is fundamental to the way people interact with others and their environment, Lee and his team wrote. "Yet, our mobile devices assume that physical world ends at the boundaries of the screen."
The possibilities for the technology are myriad, according to Google. Users can walk around their homes with the 3-D smartphones to get the dimensions before going out to buy furniture, or use the phone to find the exact shelf where a product is located in a store, it said on the Project Tango page. The visually-impaired could also use the new Project Tango technology to navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor places.
The prototype of the smartphone is a 5-inch phone running Android, which combines robotics and computer vision technology to track the 3-D motion of the phone, while creating a 3-D model of the surrounding environment.
The prototypes, algorithms, and APIs (application programming interfaces) are still in development, and the experimental devices are "intended only for the adventurous and are not a final shipping product," Google said.
The company is counting on professional developers to use the platform for a variety of applications, and said it has 200 development kits that it plans to distribute by March 14 to developers.
It has allocated some of the devices for projects in the areas of indoor navigation and mapping, single and multiplayer games that use physical space, and new algorithms for processing sensor data. "We have also set aside units for applications we haven't thought of yet," Google said, while asking developers to be creative, specific and bold.
Google has worked with universities, research labs, and industrial partners across nine countries to develop the platform, including the University of Minnesota, George Washington University, German tech firm Bosch and the Open Source Robotics Foundation.
Movidius in San Mateo, Calif., said its Myriad 1 vision processor platform will power Project Tango. The vision processor platform is described as an ultra-low power, high-performance programmable architecture of computational chips, software and development tools that enables devices to "intelligently understand and contextualize their surroundings."