What is Tango Aug­mented Re­al­ity?

HWM (Singapore) - - Feature -

G oogle’s ver­sion of Aug­mented Re­al­ity is a huge leap for­ward from Poké­mon Go or any other AR app you may al­ready be fa­mil­iar with. An­nounced early in 2014, Tango is Google’s at­tempt to get mo­bile phones and tablets to see the way the hu­man eye sees. This is no sim­ple task. It in­volves an ex­ten­sive cam­era ar­ray that uses com­puter vi­sion, depth sens­ing and mo­tion track­ing sen­sors to grant the de­vice full spa­tial aware­ness; in other words: the abil­ity to un­der­stand your en­vi­ron­ment and your re­la­tion to it. Tango doesn’t re­quire GPS or any other ex­ter­nal sig­nal, which means it can do in­door nav­i­ga­tion - some­thing that’s never been done on a mo­bile de­vice be­fore. Cur­rent VR de­vices like the HTC Vive re­quire care­fully cal­i­brated ex­ter­nal sen­sors to know where you are, but with Tango’s “in­side out track­ing”, ev­ery­thing you need is in­side your smart­phone. And if that’s not im­pres­sive enough, Tango doesn’t just know where you are, it also maps and tracks ev­ery sin­gle 3D ob­ject in the same room as you. Google’s first Tango de­vice was a large, bulky pro­to­type tablet made avail­able only to de­vel­op­ers back in 2014. Since then Google has formed a part­ner­ship with Len­ovo to bring a Tango-en­abled de­vice to con­sumers, pack­ing all of the sen­sors and pro­cess­ing re­quired to run Tango into a por­ta­ble, con­sumer­friendly form fac­tor. That de­vice is fi­nally here: the 6.4-inch Len­ovo Phab 2 Pro ph­ablet.

How does it work?

The Phab 2 Pro uti­lizes three types of tech­nol­ogy that all work to­gether to make Tango work:

1. Mo­tion Track­ing

Mo­tion Track­ing lets the Phab 2 Pro track its own move­ment and ori­en­ta­tion through 3D space. Walk around with the Phab 2 Pro and move it for­ward, back­ward, up, or down, or tilt it in any di­rec­tion, and it can tell you where it is and which way it’s fac­ing. This is ac­com­plished on the Phab 2 Pro with a wide an­gle fish­eye cam­era, an ac­celerom­e­ter, and a gy­ro­scope. The image from the fish­eye cam­era is used to iden­tify key vis­ual fea­tures such as edges and cor­ners. The de­vice then tracks how much th­ese fea­tures move be­tween frames to de­ter­mine the dis­tance trav­eled. The data from the ac­celerom­e­ter and gy­ro­scope de­ter­mine how fast the de­vice is mov­ing and in which di­rec­tion it is turn­ing. All this in­for­ma­tion is fused to­gether to track where the de­vice is in 3D space.

2. Area Learn­ing

Area Learn­ing means the de­vice re­mem­bers what it sees and can also re­call that in­for­ma­tion later on. With Mo­tion Track­ing alone, the de­vice “sees” the vis­ual fea­tures of the area it is mov­ing through but doesn’t “re­mem­ber” them. The de­vice needs to use Area Learn­ing to im­prove the ac­cu­racy of Mo­tion Track­ing by align­ing the real-time data with the saved data. Area Learn­ing is ac­com­plished through Google’s Tango core soft­ware as it pro­cesses all the spa­tial in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by the sen­sors on the Phab 2 Pro.

3. Depth Per­cep­tion

Depth per­cep­tion gives the de­vice the abil­ity to mea­sure dis­tances to ob­jects in the real world. This lets you aug­ment vir­tual ob­jects that not only ap­pear to be a part of your ac­tual en­vi­ron­ment, but can ac­tu­ally in­ter­act with your en­vi­ron­ment. The Phab 2 Pro ac­com­plishes depth per­cep­tion by com­bin­ing the in­for­ma­tion from a “time of flight” IR (in­frared) emit­ter and stan­dard RGB cam­era. The IR emit­ter sends out in­frared light which bounces back and is mea­sured within a few nanosec­onds, while the RGB cam­era cre­ates a stereo image that is used to gen­er­ate depth in­for­ma­tion.

What can Tango do?

The ap­pli­ca­tions for Tango are end­less, but to start with, Len­ovo and Google have tar­geted three key ar­eas of in­ter­est. The first is in­door nav­i­ga­tion. Imag­ine hav­ing a Google Maps style lay­out in ev­ery mall, mu­seum and su­per­mar­ket, telling you ex­actly where you are, and where you want to go. Ex­tra in­for­ma­tion could be over­laid on top of nav­i­ga­tion el­e­ments, for ex­am­ple, if you’re in a su­per­mar­ket, the AR dis­play could point your at­ten­tion to shelves with spe­cial deals as you walk around.

The se­cond area is gam­ing. Imag­ine if Poké­mon Go had Tango aug­mented re­al­ity. In­stead of merely see­ing a Poké­mon ap­pear on screen, it could in­ter­act with ob­jects and your sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Poké­mon could lit­er­ally hide in the tall grass near your house. For other AR games, lev­els could be cre­ated us­ing the lay­out of your house, school, or of­fice, mak­ing the game far more per­sonal and fa­mil­iar.

Fi­nally, Google is look­ing at AR en­hanced util­i­ties. Th­ese are apps that you could use, for ex­am­ple, to map your liv­ing room and then re-dec­o­rate by mov­ing around, adding or re­mov­ing fur­ni­ture. We’ve al­ready seen AR apps like this, but with Tango, you can move through that space to get a real-time 3D idea of what your ac­tual room will look like from ev­ery an­gle.

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