How Google And Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro Brought True AR To Masses
HWM Singapore|April 2017

How Google’s Tango Augmented Reality platform is changing the way we interact with the world.

James Lu & Marcus Wong

For the past six years, Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team has been hard at work on an augmented reality computing platform that they say, “could one day be as essential to your phone as GPS”. That platform is Tango and it’s finally here. And it’s about to change the way you and your smartphone interact with the world.

What is Tango Augmented Reality?

Google’s version of Augmented Reality is a huge leap forward from Pokémon Go or any other AR app you may already be familiar with. Announced early in 2014, Tango is Google’s attempt to get mobile phones and tablets to see the way the human eye sees. This is no simple task. It involves an extensive camera array that uses computer vision, depth sensing and motion tracking sensors to grant the device full spatial awareness; in other words: the ability to understand your environment and your relation to it. Tango doesn’t require GPS or any other external signal, which means it can do indoor navigation - something that’s never been done on a mobile device before. Current VR devices like the HTC Vive require carefully calibrated external sensors to know where you are, but with Tango’s “inside out tracking”, everything you need is inside your smartphone. And if that’s not impressive enough, Tango doesn’t just know where you are, it also maps and tracks every single 3D object in the same room as you.

Google’s first Tango device was a large, bulky prototype tablet made available only to developers back in 2014. Since then Google has formed a partnership with Lenovo to bring a Tango-enabled device to consumers, packing all of the sensors and processing required to run Tango into a portable, consumer friendly form factor. That device is finally here: the 6.4-inch Lenovo Phab 2 Pro phablet.

How does it work?

The Phab 2 Pro utilizes three types of technology that all work together to make Tango work:

1. Motion Tracking

Motion Tracking lets the Phab 2 Pro track its own movement and orientation through 3D space. Walk around with the Phab 2 Pro and move it forward, backward, up, or down, or tilt it in any direction, and it can tell you where it is and which way it’s facing. This is accomplished on the Phab 2 Pro with a wide angle fisheye camera, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope. The image from the fisheye camera is used to identify key visual features such as edges and corners. The device then tracks how much these features move between frames to determine the distance traveled. The data from the accelerometer and gyroscope determine how fast the device is moving and in which direction it is turning. All this information is fused together to track where the device is in 3D space.

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