Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Two to Tango

Dinosaurs Among Us, an app from the American Museum of Natural History that relies on Tango. Source: American Museum of Natural History.

Elizabeth Woyke, The Next Must-Have Smartphone Feature, MIT Technology Review, 16 August 2016

Google’s new location-sensing system will make augmented reality far more

Smartphones can tell you when to depart for the airport to make your flight, provide voice-guided directions on the way there, and route around traffic jams. But if you wanted to get audio directions to a specific counter at the airport, you’d be out of luck. That requires a phone to understand its position in great detail, all on its own-even when it is deep inside a building, beyond the reach of GPS signals. Even the most
sophisticated phones can’t do that.

That has long frustrated Google engineer Johnny Lee. Why should he “give up on using my cell phone,” he says, when trying to find things inside large buildings? When I talked to him, he was traveling in Singapore, where he had been visiting big malls-and getting lost. As soon as he walked through the front door, he said, his phone had become “somewhat useless.”

But thanks to Tango, a location-sensing system that Lee is developing at Google, phones are about to get much more useful-especially when they’re indoors. In the works for nearly four years, Tango uses sensors, computer vision, and image processing to give phones a much better comprehension of space and motion. It is built on three core
technologies: area learning, depth sensing, and motion tracking. Together, they allow Tango phones to learn, remember, and map areas around them; detect how far they are from the floor or a wall or an object; and understand where they are while moving in three-dimensional space. Tango can do this with centimeter-level accuracy, all without relying on external signals such as GPS, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth.

And because Tango makes devices so adept at understanding their position,
it’s much more than the equivalent of indoor GPS. It will let phones interact with their surroundings or with virtual objects in novel ways. If you’re shopping for a new sofa, Tango-enabled apps from Lowe’s and Wayfair will show you which styles will fit the space available and let you plop 3-D images into your living room to see how they would look. Need to measure a painting so you can frame it, or get the dimensions of a bureau so you can sell it online? Tango can use tracking and 3-D sensing data to calculate the dimensions of objects, no ruler or measuring tape needed.

Bored? Fire up Phantogeist, a Tango game in which phantom-like aliens lunge at you from behind walls and under floors. Or launch Dinosaurs Among Us, an app from the American Museum of Natural History that relies on Tango. It lets you place dinosaurs around your house and see facts derived from the museum’s current dinosaur exhibit.

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