Google and Lenovo just announced they’re partnering up to build an Android-powered, sub-$500 smartphone powered by Google’s extremely nifty Project Tango technology.
Project Tango, first announced in 2014, is a project originated from Google ATAP, one of the search giant’s coolest and most secretive research labs.
The basic idea behind Project Tango is to give smartphones and tablets a set of “eyes” that can understand depth perception, just like humans can.
To date, Project Tango has only been available in the form of a slightly unsightly, pricey tablet, designed for developers to get a taste of the platform. With this announcement, Lenovo has confirmed that it will be the first to bring Project Tango to consumer smartphones later in 2016.
“We don’t believe this technology is one that has a short lifespan,” said Lenovo tablet boss Jeff Meredith. “Some innovations last 6 months and fall by the wayside.”
I got a little hands-on time with these Project Tango apps, and it works very well. This could be really big—and might turn out to be the hottest announcement out of CES 2016.
To demonstrate why this is going to be so cool, Google Project Tango lead Johnny Lee showed off a bunch of real, useful apps running on the Project Tango platform—though since Lenovo’s still working on the design of its Tango-powered phone, he had to show it off via the existing developer tablet.
“There’s much more information in the spaces around us than we can see with or eyes,” Lee said.
First off, he showed off how Project Tango can actually take the measurements of stuff like furniture. Line up the camera’s viewfinder with one edge of the couch, and then again on the space you want to measure, and it returns a totally accurate measurement.
You can do it for surface area, too, like if you’re going to paint a wall. You can also measure floor to ceiling. A Google spokesperson describes it as “like the Calculator app,” insofar as it’s going to come with Project Tango-capable phones and be something that people use a lot.
Lee also showed off its space-sensing capabilities. It can detect that a flat surface high off the ground is probably a table, and project images onto them, or that a floor is a floor. It can even build a total 3D model of the room, starting from scratch.
In one example, he played Jenga with a spokesperson, leaning in, clicking on the screen, and then leaning out to pull out a block. A more useful example came via an app powered by home improvement chain Lowe’s, so you can project an image of a new fridge, for example, and see how much space it’ll actually take up in your room.
A big part of why Lenovo and Google are aiming to release a consumer device, the companies say, is that it’s time for developers to really get their hands on it and build more stuff that takes new and novel use of the Project Tango sensor system.
Other potential uses include indoor mapping systems that can help you find your way inside buildings, or that help map out where your friends are in crowded spaces.
“We’re gonna take this product and launch it to the realm where developers can feel comfortable working on their apps,” Meredith says.