Google struts out Project Tango tablet for developers

The company is bringing its 3D mapping and sensing initiative, originally announced only for smartphones, to tablets.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

Google's Project Tango tablet Screenshot by Richard Nieva/CNET

Google on Thursday took the wraps off a tablet that has 3D mapping and sensing capabilities, and plans to make the device available to software developers in late June.

The gadget is in connection with Google's Project Tango, an initiative to push the bounds of virtual experiences and realistic mapping on mobile devices. The project, announced in February, launched originally with only a smartphone prototype.

The 7-inch tablet will cost $1,024, and will feature a software kit that will give developers tools to build applications with the technology. Those attending the company's annual developer confab, Google I/O, in San Francisco later this month will have the first shot at purchasing the tablet.

The move comes as more technology giants focus on 3D and advanced platforms. Apple bought 3D sensor company PrimeSense last November. While not focused on tablets and smartphones, Facebook bought Oculus, the maker of virtual reality goggles, for $2 billion in March.

Google said the hardware was made in close collaboration with chipmaker Nvidia, and will include the company's new Tegra K1 mobile processor. The tablet will come full of sensors, and have a motion-tracking camera and 128 gigabytes of storage.

Project Tango comes out of Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group, a skunkworks division that came to Google as part of its acquisition of Motorola Mobility in 2012 for $12.5 billion. (Google has since agreed to sell Motorola's handset business to Lenovo, the Chinese PC maker.) The company said the overarching goal of Tango is to give mobile devices a "human-scale understanding of space and motion."

In March, Google distributed 200 Project Tango smartphones to developers, but Google is aiming to get the tablets out to a wider audience of developers, according to Engadget. Aside from the benefits of having more screen real estate, the perk of the tablet is the level of computing power afforded by Nvidia's processor -- giving developers more horse power to dream up creative applications for the software.

Potential uses for the technology are wide ranging. The 3D-mapping features could be a boon for the disabled. For example, visually impaired people could use Project Tango to navigate unfamiliar places, with the software describing things in the room as the user walks around. The technology could also help customers find specific products in stores, or create next-gen gaming experiences.

"If the device can understand your environment, you could turn your living room into a dungeon." Jonny Lee, the program's technical lead, told Engadget.

Lee also said he hopes the project could eventually lead to breakthroughs in wearables, another category in which Google is making a big push. The company in March unveiled Android Wear, a modified version of its Android mobile operating system, meant specifically for wearables like smartwatches. The OS, which taps heavily into Google Now's voice-recognition technology, will be the software behind watches including the LG G Watch and the Moto 360.

Project Tango's technology, with its reliance on sensors and cameras, certainly has a good fit with devices being worn, instead of smartphones and tablets, which reside in pockets and bags when not in use. If the companies involved -- Google has partnered with several organizations like chipmaker Movidius and George Washington University -- can make the hardware compact enough, it would be a boon to the emerging genre of gadgets.

Correction, 11:40 p.m. PT: This article previously misstated what Facebook paid for Oculus. It is $2 billion.

Updated, 2:21 p.m. PT: Adds more information throughout.