While 3D technology has attracted the attention of tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Samsung, a small Israel-based company aims to make it easier for hardware makers to adopt the technology and for software developers to create it.
Mantis Vision -- which partnered with Google on one of its 3D-tech projects -- on Thursday announced a tablet for developers called Aquila, which specializes in scanning and photographing physical objects and turning them into interactive 3D scenes. It can also record 3D video and capture a real-time stream of 3D data.
Developers can register to get one for $925 at the Uplinq mobile developer conference this week in San Francisco, hosted by chipmaker Qualcomm, which makes the tablet's processor. People who sign up will get the devices by the end of the year, said Mantis Vision CEO Amihai Loven. He also said the technology will come to devices on the market by early 2015, through licensing partnerships with hardware makers.
The company partnered with Google in February to include its 3D-sensing technology in the search giant's Project Tango smartphone and tablet. The devices were made by Google's Advanced Technology and Projects division -- the company's skunkworks lab based on DARPA -- as a way to help software developers make advancements in 3D mapping.
But whereas Project Tango smartphones and tablets focus more on where the device is in relation to the space around it -- a helpful property when it comes to 3D mapping -- Loven said the Aquila tablet is more for developers to create content that could be used in things like gaming.
"The idea here is that the 3D market is application driven," he said.
The device sports an 8-inch display, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor. It's also got two sensors -- one near-infrared and one color, with a Sony 13-megapixel camera, and is powered by Google's Android operating system. The company has partnered with the supply chain firm Flextronics to make the device. Flextronics, along with Qualcomm and others, in June invested $12.5 million in Mantis Vision.
Several other companies have also staked their claim in 3D and virtual reality experiences. Amazon has put 3D technology into its Fire Phone, which was announced in July. In March, Facebook announced it was plunking down $2 billion to buy the VR goggle maker Oculus, which has also partnered with Samsung tothat use mobile devices to create VR experiences.
The Aquila tablet could be used to create similar experiences. In fact, during a smartphone demonstration of the Aquila capabilities for CNET, Loven showed an animated version of himself driving a convertible by plopping the phone inside a pair of Google Cardboard -- the same do-it-yourself virtual reality kit that the company handed out to developers at its I/O conference in June. While looking through the goggles, turning your head in various directions lets you see different parts of the scene.
The promise of VR goes far beyond gaming, which is why the biggest tech companies in the world are pouring so much money into the category. For example, Aquila's technology could be used in shopping, by, say, allowing someone to virtually see what a big screen TV might look like in his living room, said Jay Wright, Qualcomm's vice president of product management. Wright works on the chipmaker's augmented reality platform, called Vuforia.
"I suspect this would be very interesting to Amazon," he said, when asked about eventual competition with the retail giant's Fire Phone, which has several buying-power features.
For now, the overarching goal of the tablet, though, is to advance 3D technology, Wright said. "When in the hands of developers, that's when the true vision will be realized."