Google is working on mobile devices capable of taking and reproducing 3D images – reportedly including a tablet – which could help satisfy the insatiable business appetite for better imaging, experts have said.
Development is being kept well under wraps and is taking place under the codename Project Tango, and while Google has already talked of working on a prototype smartphone with 3D imaging capabilities, it has not commented on reports this week that it is developing 3D capable tablets.
3D technology is not new, but the potential commercialization by a company with the reach of Google – at an affordable price point – could transform its adoption. Consumer tablets and phones running the Android operating system are already highly popular in the enterprise.
Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of IT industry association CompTIA, tells Forbes that if Google were to develop “really compelling” technology, it would find uses in “video and image heavy fields like medicine, real estate and engineering and some retail markets like automotive.”
Many of these industries already use imaging technology heavily, and are looking for the next stage. In medicine, doctors, pharmaceutical companies and researchers are always attempting to improve the ways they can assess, see and understand human health. In other industries, uses can be as diverse as showing a property to prospective buyers, or examining a design scenario for a city center construction, major utility site, or road project.
“Imagine sectors like construction, mining, or warehousing,” says Bryan Ma, vice president of client devices research at IDC. “Being able to see where things should be [in terms of 3D and augmented reality technology], without them being physically obvious to the unaided eye could help significantly accelerate processes and efficiency.”
Other industries, including manufacturing and design, can also see the benefits of the technology in assessing potential plans. And retail will be sure to play a part: consumers could take an image of their living room before going furniture or decor shopping, for example, and see what would fit well from within the store, with retailers further enhancing the experience.
A number of companies already work with more sophisticated systems including virtual reality – such as Ford, which uses Facebook’s Oculus VR systems to help it visualize and experience designs before producing them. But many organizations do not have that level of budget and are looking for a less expensive, more standardized type of technology to begin with.
In terms of Google’s own announcements, the company has already said on its Project Tango website that applications for 3D technology could include changing customer and citizen experience, as well as gaming.
“What if you could walk into a store and see exactly where that thing you need to buy is, or play hide-and-seek in your home with that character from your favorite game, or help the visually-impaired navigate that place they have never been able to to go on their own?” Google says on the site. “We believe the possibilities are vast.”
A Google 3D tablet could have a seven-inch screen and two back cameras, infrared depth sensors and 3D capture software, sources familiar with the plans told the Wall Street Journal.
While the official details remain unclear, one thing is for sure: Google is taking the development seriously. For Project Tango, Google has said it is “working with universities, research labs, and industrial partners”, across nine countries, in order to “concentrate the past 10 years of research in robotics and computer vision” into its mobile technology.
Partners on the project include major businesses such as manufacturer Bosch, as well as key organizations including the Open Source Robotics Foundation and the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.. Ma at IDC says Google is deliberately working with these companies and developers across sectors because it “won’t know all of the possibilities on its own without partners who understand deep industry processes”.
Google’s multi-faceted business may help make the 3D project a business and consumer success, according to Thibodeaux at CompTIA. Google is “probably one of a very small number of companies who could bring the pieces together”, he says, adding: “They have the dominant GPS technologies. They have a rich platform like YouTube and the challenge is something their engineers would eat up.”