Google’s Project Tango: Five things you could do with a phone that maps your room

Google is pushing into a new world of smartphone hardware, with a new prototype phone that can create a 3D-map of a room. The prototype phone , a 5-inch device codenamed Project Tango, was revealed on Thursday. Its sensors can read a room by tracking the motion of the device itself and simultaneously mapping the environment around it with “a quarter million 3D measurements every second.”

The company has added indoor maps to its mapping products before, but this project comes from the firm’s Advanced Technology and Projects group and takes that concept to an all-new level.

For a full look at Project Tango, take a gander at the video the firm released about the phone:

Google is partnering with 16 companies and organizations, including The George Washington University, to work on the technology and is asking for more institutions to sign up to work on prototype applications.

It sounds pretty cool, but what would you actually want to use a 3D map of your room for? Here are some ways the phone could help you in your daily life.

Shopping: Google mentions on the Project Tango page that the device could have big implications for shoppers, whether they’re shopaholics or folks who just like to get in and out as quickly as possible. Having an indoor map of the store in your hand could make shopping trips more efficient by leading you directly to the shelf you want.

The firm also mentions that you could use the phone to map the inside of your own room before heading out to buy furniture. IKEA already has an app like this, but this would presumably work for those adults who’ve moved beyond flatpack furniture.

Directions: By extension, one could also see Project Tango working at other times when you need directions inside a building or structure that current mapping solutions just don’t provide. How many times have you tried to get to a government building, for example, only to be dropped off at some imposing front door with no idea how to get to the right room inside the building? Indoor directions on this scale could cut down on the time you’re wandering in hallways to get you to your appointments on time.

Help for the visually-impaired: The phone also has great implications for the visually-impaired community — something Google mentions explicitly in its video and on its Web site. For example, the visually-impaired could use the phone to map out the room and use some kind of software to get alerts about obstacles — giving them an easier way to navigate through unfamiliar territory.

Emergency response: Those working on Google’s Project Glass have already looked into ways to use that technology to help emergency response workers such as firefighters find their way through buildings by projecting the blueprints onto the screen that hovers over the eyes of Glass users.

Using something like Project Tango to map out a room as it is — not only how it’s supposed to be — has the potential to provide valuable information in situations where knowing the exact layout of a room can be a matter of life or death.

Augmented reality gaming: Google also devotes a bit of space on its Web site to postulating what this sort of device could do for gaming, particularly if one could combine the room-mapping with augmented reality.

“Imagine competing against a friend for control over territories in your own home with your own miniature army,” Google said on its Project Tango Web site. Mapping in-game textures onto your real walls — either through the smartphone or a wearable device such as Glass — would arguably produce the best game of Cops and Robbers in history.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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