Google and Lenovo are working on an indoor navigation system that relies on mappings rather than GPS data. And it could change the way we interact with closed spaces forever
By: Alessio JaconaPosted: March 8, 2016
Barcelona – Standing motionless in the center of a room with dark green painted walls, I remain silent with a tablet in my hands. I'm pointing it at an immense painting, "La Batalla de Tetuan" by Mari Fortuny, while the screen is me reports information and details on the work and the artist. I stand still, dazed looking at the screen of the same device that brought me up there, guiding me step by step like any car navigator, but inside a closed place, where thick walls prevent the reception of any GPS signal. And where there is no shadow of a hardware and software infrastructure that my tablet could lean on to find its way. the magic of Project Tango, the project / platform launched by Google and developed in close collaboration with the Chinese giant Lenovo.
After all, the idea, simple enough to seem trivial: use tablets and smartphones to enable an augmented reality experience geolocated in closed spaces and without expensive dedicated infrastructure, as well as unreachable by satellite signal. Easy to say, but not to be done: for the trick to work, you need first of all a powerful hardware, where everything in the camera must first of all have high-level performance. The tablet must be able to perceive, recognize and locate the movement first of all through the analysis of the images coming from the camera, as well as from the information collected by the gyroscope and accelerometer. This is only possible if there was one upstream3D mapping of the environment in which we move, which is continually compared with the images taken in real time to derive the user's position.
The Museu Nacional dArt de Catalunya in Barcelona it looks like a church: the right place to stage the typical hype liturgy to which the technology industry has accustomed us. Staying with my feet on the ground, the trip to the museum organized by Google and Lenovo made two things clear to me: first, that the technology is still immature, but its development is proceeding at a brisk pace. Second, that once mature Project Tango can be truly revolutionary, and can transform the way we move into large closed environments such as shopping centers, metro, universities and anything else that comes to mind. Meanwhile Lenovo is working hard to get a mature product for the market already within the current year: "Currently our focus is to look for motivated and capable partners to create valuable services and features with which to get to the launch"Jeffrey Meredith, general manager and vice president of the Tablet Business Unit for the Chinese company, explained to us.
What is certain that much of Project Tango's success depends on the quality and size of the ecosystem of companies and developers that Lenovo will be able to involve around the project. Also according to Meredith, the signals in this regard are already encouraging, given that in a very short time Lenovo has received “Many more original and unexpected proposals than we could have expected. what happens when the creativity of the developers frees them ".
The trip to the museum also allowed me to speak directly with Andrew Paterson, co-founder of Guidigo, one of the two companies (together with Glympse) that Lenovo summoned to Barcelona to organize the demo. The app that led me to the museum works for them. During the visit, Paterson insisted a lot on the fact that, behind apparently simple functions, he hides himself along and complex 3D mapping and data collection work. "The possibilities are still to be explored", he said, almost as if to justify the fact that during the short test, still little could be done: "Today the tablet has led us to this picture and it is enough to frame it to provide us with additional information, but more can be done". For example, having time to carefully map the whole museum, one could have asked for the program identify artists or similar works and guide us in the museum to reach them, allowing us to create a unique path based on our interests. And then again, they could create detailed 3D models of some elements of a painting and load them on the tablet, which on request would display them in augmented reality wherever we decide to point the camera in the room, allowing us to observe them closely. "Do you see the bicycle in that painting?", Paterson asks me: "With Project Tango we can visualize it here in front of us, turn it around and, if there was, you could get close enough to be able to read its serial number on the frame".In short, the lesson learned at the Museu simple: we are still at the beginning, but the technology is evolving very quickly. What we really need now are good ideas.