Google announced that it will kill its more research-oriented and augmented reality-focused Project Tango. The company will invest in the more mainstream ARCore platform that should work on many of the higher-end Android smartphones in the future.
Tango, originally named Project Tango, was an augmented reality (AR) computing platform developed by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division. The idea behind Tango was to put the most advanced computer vision and AR algorithms in mobile devices and enable those devices to “see” the world around us as we do.
Google also hoped third-party developers would create all sorts of user experiences that would incorporate indoor navigation, 3D mapping, physical space measurement, environmental recognition, and so on.
However, the hardware requirements, which included not just specialized computer vision processors, such as Movidius’ Myriad VPU, as well as multiple wide-angle and depth cameras, seem to have been too high for regular smartphones. Google’s initial Tango-enabled tablet cost $1,024. Lenovo launched a $500 Tango smartphone in 2016, but it was quickly discontinued, presumably because it made too many compromises in terms of hardware components that consumers were expecting to get with the price tag.
New ARCore AR Platform
Last summer, Google announced ARCore, a new AR platform that doesn’t need special hardware and sensors, but also isn’t quite as advanced as Tango, as it can’t see the world in 3D. However, the platform does seem to need powerful enough smartphones, such as the latest Pixel 2 and Samsung’s Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note 8 smartphones. Google also promised that in the coming months over 100 million smartphones will have access to ARCore.
As more smartphones gain wide-angle and telephoto cameras, as well as powerful computer vision/machine learning chips (such as the latest Pixel 2), it may be possible to upgrade ARCore to be at least as advanced as Tango was in a few years.
Shutting Down Tango
Google’s Tango team announced that it will shut down Tango this spring to focus on ARCore:
We’re turning down support for Tango on March 1, 2018. Thank you to our incredible community of developers who made such progress with Tango over the last three years. We look forward to continuing the journey with you on ARCore.
As Tango didn’t seem to have any future anyway neither with consumers nor with smartphone manufacturers, killing it seems to make sense. If Google can show some usefulness for its ARCore AR platform as well as high adoption, it can just continue to improve that platform until smartphones become more capable of seeing the world as well or better than we we do in 3D.