Touring a museum with Project Tango is an empowering glimpse into the future

It’s easy to forget how difficult it was to find places in the days before Google Maps, but for all the improvements we’ve seen in outdoor navigation guides, we still lack a reliable way to get where we’re going inside. The Tango App experience was created by Google and Lenovo to demonstrate the potential of Project Tango and augmented reality to help us navigate indoors and find people and places.

During Mobile World Congress, we were given a guided tour of the modern art section of Barcelona’s stunning Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya which sits atop Montjuic hill. But our tour guide wasn’t a person, it was an augmented reality app on a tablet.

It was like having an insanely convenient version of Wikipedia with us at the museum.

Lenovo was able to quickly map out an area of the museum reserved for the MWC demo and mark specific points of interest using Project Tango tablets and special software called GuidiGo. The app guided us to certain artworks via a trail of blue dots on the floor visible on the tablet screen and announced when we reached our destination.

Once there, there was even more augmented reality to try. By holding the tablet up in front of a painting and tapping on specific highlighted spots we were able to access more details about the characters portrayed within pieces of art, and dip into all sorts of related information. It was like having an insanely convenient version of Wikipedia with us at the museum.

It’s easy to imagine the possibilities for technology like this. It could be used to help guide you through confusing underground stations, take you directly where you want to go in a shopping mall, or even help you find someone within a crowded building.

In the lobby of the demo area, some Project Tango tablets were using Glympse software to display where people (who had specific devices) were by showing avatars above their heads. If they were in another room or downstairs, the avatar was displayed smaller or on the floor. If they were in the room it would appear directly above their heads.

Lenovo Project Tango
Simon Hill/Digital Trends
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The software isn’t perfect, though. Occasionally, the trail of blue dots tried to take us through a wall, like we’re a ghost or something, but when we did take a wrong turn it simply recalculated our route, like Google Maps.

The real stumbling block for anyone interested in using this technology right now is the lack of any available hardware, but at CES back in January Lenovo announced that it would release a smartphone with 3D imaging support in the U.S. this summer.

Project Tango has the potential to do the same for indoor navigation as Google Maps has done for outdoor navigation. Once the technology is widely available there’s real scope for destinations to be fully mapped in interesting ways through crowdsourcing. We could have indoor guides to museums, art galleries, malls, and all kinds of other venues with points of interest marked with expandable AR content. Of course, one barrier may be businesses and establishments themselves. Before Google, or any company, can make an indoor map, they must obtain permission from whoever owns the building or space. For years, this has been one of indoor mapping’s biggest challenge, and one of the reasons why only a small number of buildings have indoor maps right now.

Our trip round the museum was brief, but inspiring. This is exciting technology, and definitely an overdue innovation. We imagine it coming in handy at sports stadiums or in places like Las Vegas casinos, where layouts are a nightmare and it’s easy to get lost, but the ability to layer AR information onto any surface also opens up a huge array of possibilities. Future grocery stores could announce sales and help you find products to buy, for example, or just guide you directly to the box of Oreos you shouldn’t buy.

We can’t wait to really learn how to Tango with Lenovo later this year.

Emerging Tech

Death from above? How we’re preparing for a future filled with weaponized drones

Drones are beginning to enable everything from search & rescue, to the delivery of medicines to hard-to-reach places. But they are also being used as cheap, and deadly flying bombs. How can we defend ourselves?
Emerging Tech

Flying food: Uber has set a target date to use drones for meal delivery

Uber is better known for transporting people around town, but it also has a growing meal-delivery business called UberEats. It currently uses drivers and cyclists to deliver the food, but also has plans to use drones.
Social Media

These are the best ways to make an animated GIF

Love sharing GIFs with your friends and peers, but wish you could make your own? Here's how to do so in Photoshop, or using a few other methods that don't require you to shell out a premium fee with each calendar year.
Home Theater

Google Translate busts out of Pixel jail, now works on any Assistant headphones

The best feature of Google’s Pixel Buds was the built-in real-time translation. Now that incredibly useful feature is available on any headphones that feature Google Assistant integration.
Mobile

Sprint now lets you add Hulu's Live TV service to your unlimited plan

Sprint recently introduced three new data plans to its roster -- Unlimited Basic , Unlimited Plus, and Unlimited Premium. Here, we break down your options to help you decide which one is best for you and your family.
Photography

Camera shootout! Testing the latest Pixel, iPhone, and Galaxy Note in real life

Which takes the best photos, the Pixel 3 XL, iPhone XS Max, Galaxy Note 9, or Pixel 2 XL? We put the cameras on all these top-notch phones through their paces to see which performs best in the real world, from low light to portrait mode…
Product Review

Amazon’s child-friendly tablet is the complete package

Kids are tough on electronics and it’s difficult to police screen time and manage what they’re doing. The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition could be the affordable answer to your prayers, with a rugged case and worry-free warranty.
Mobile

Sams's Club offers $100 gift cards for iPhone XR pre-orders

After months of rumors and speculation, Apple has finally taken the wraps off of the new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Now that the phones are out, you might be wondering how you can get them for yourself.
Mobile

It’s about time! A USB-C magnetic charger for the Apple Watch has finally arrived

While most of the buzz surrounding Apple has been about the iPhone XR, the company also introduced a new Apple Watch accessory. Starting October 24, a USB-C magnetic charger will be available for purchase.
Home Theater

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra: Everything you need to know

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Mobile

Huawei Mate 20 Pro vs. P20 Pro: Which 2018 Huawei flagship is best for you?

If you're tempted by Huawei's latest flagship, the Mate 20 Pro, but you're uncertain how it differs from the P20 Pro which Huawei released earlier this year, then we have you covered. Find out exactly what sets these two phones apart.
Product Review

Simple, smart, and affordable, Google’s USB-C earbuds are a must-buy

Google’s follow-up to its wireless Pixel Buds are the wired Google Pixel USB-C earbuds. It’s the simpler route, but the earbuds are still smart, deliver good sound, and -- best of all -- they’re affordable.
Mobile

Strapped after your latest smartphone purchase? Check out our favorite MVNOs

Looking to switch from a major carrier to something a little more affordable? Luckily, there are a ton of great MVNO options to choose from. Check out our guide to the best MVNOs, from Boost Mobile to Google Project Fi.
Mobile

How to take great photos with the iPhone XS, Apple’s finest camera phone yet

The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max feature the best cameras yet seen on an Apple smartphone, ready for you to get out and take great photos. Here's our guide to help ensure each shot you take is a winner.