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How Google's Project Tango will change your life

Mike Elgan | Jan. 5, 2016
Tango-based phones and tablets start emerging this week; here's why Tango will turn your smartphone into a genius phone.

It all starts this week

Lenovo is expected to announce on Thursday at CES a new product line based on Tango technology. This is interesting, in part, because Lenovo now owns Motorola, which is the company that started the Tango project. It's possible that Motorola phone and tablet engineering teams have been working on Tango integration for years.

The list of companies working on either reference designs or commercial products based on Tango include (as mentioned) Qualcomm and Intel, as well as Nvidia and LG.

It's reasonable to assume that Google is working on Tango products as well, possibly future Nexus devices. And I think all these companies will announce Tango-powered products this year.

What's Tango for, anyway?

In many ways, Tango takes many of the core abilities that already exist in smartphones and greatly enhances them.

Project Tango enables a mobile device to not only map indoor spaces -- figure out where the floors, walls, ceilings and furniture are -- but to also know the location of the device within that space and its orientation.

Think of Tango as a platform that turns a smartphone into both a Kinect-like device and a Wii-like remote, both working at the same time. (That immediately suggests the use of your own smartphone as a universal peripheral for console video gaming.)

The sensors in your smartphone can already detect orientation based on movement. But these are subject to "drift" because they're estimates based on movement of the phone itself. Tango constantly orients the phone to its actual surroundings for better accuracy.

Beacons can track indoor location -- roughly. Your phone can tell how far away it is from a beacon in a known location. Tango upgrades that ability by not only providing indoor location where nobody bothered to place a beacon, but also more accurate indoor location. It can see the door and the stairs and the flower pot and figure out where it is inside a building. So if you were to "mark" a spot inside a room inside an app to be found by someone else, the next person could not only identify the general area but the exact spot. If a store's app wanted to provide product information for items on the shelf, it could provide it for the product directly in front of you, but not for the product one foot to the right.

A Tango-enabled smartphone or tablet can replace a tape measure.You could measure the size of a TV screen by tapping on one corner, tapping on the far diagonal corner, then getting the screen size. Or you could measure the size of anyone -- or any thing. Or you could use Tango with a drone to make sure the drone never, ever crashes into trees, buildings or people.

 

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