Skip to main content

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro's library of Tango augmented reality apps and games is expanding
phab 2 pro ces apps project tango lenovo istaging ar

Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro is a remarkable -- if flawed -- smartphone. It's one of the largest phones we've ever seen, for starters, measuring more than 6 inches across. And it's one of the world's first to ship with Google Tango's augmented reality sensors on board, meaning it can can track objects in three-dimensional space, react to movements, recognize objects (tablets, chairs, walls, and windows, etc.), and capture the dimensions of a room. It's a cool capability of which few apps took advantage, but lucky for the Phab 2 Pro, Tango's AR app library is about grow.

"Studios around the world are using the Phab 2 Pro as a working model to develop innovative Tango apps," Lenovo wrote in a press release. "As a result, the Phab 2 Pro will be delivering on the original Tango experience on a number of new apps, which have introduced unique AR and VR experiences to the phones of new Tango users."

Read more
Augmented reality, anyone? Lenovo is releasing another Tango phone in 2017
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review

Lenovo's partnership with Google's Tango may not be over yet. According to a report from Tom's Guide that cites a general manager at Lenovo, the company will launch a second Tango-enabled phone some time in 2017.

Tango is essentially aimed at helping phones map out real-world spaces in 3D. The technology uses a series of sensors and cameras, and has been used to create a number of augmented reality apps and games. Lenovo was the first company to launch a Tango-enabled phone for consumers -- the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which cost only $500.

Read more
The Lenovo Moto Z could be getting a Google Project Tango mod
moto z project tango mod play droid and hasselblad hands on 8

It looks like Motorola is going to follow in its parent company Lenovo's footsteps and embrace Google's Project Tango. Motorola CEO Aymar de Lencquesaing mentioned at a recent press event that the Moto Z may get a module that will give it Tango functionality.

Project Tango is essentially a coupling of camera and software technologies that allows a device to map an indoor area in 3D. The first Tango-enabled device was the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which first went on sale in the U.S. just recently.

Read more