Google to put 3D vision technology in experimental tablet

The tablets could be ready before Google's developer conference in late June, the WSJ reported

Google is developing a new tablet with advanced vision capabilities that can be used to capture 3D images.

About 4,000 of the prototypes will be produced at the beginning of next month for use by developers, reported the Wall Street Journal, citing people briefed on the company's plans. The new tablet could be ready before Google's developer conference Google I/O kicks off on June 25, the Journal said.

The tablet will have a 7-inch screen, infrared depth censors, two back cameras and software for processing 3D images, and will be part of Google's Project Tango, according to the newspaper.

Project Tango is Google's attempt to create a mobile device that shares a human's sense of space and movement and understands and perceives the world the same way we do.

A Google spokesman declined to comment on the tablet plans on Friday.

In February, Google launched a 5-inch Project Tango prototype Android smartphone combining technology from the worlds of computer vision and robotics to create a 3D model of the phone's surroundings.

This technology could for instance be used to quickly find the exact shelf where a product is located in a store or to make a 3D floor plan of a house before going out to shop for furniture. Project Tango could also guide the visually impaired around unfamiliar indoor places and provide step-by-step directions in stores.

These are all possibilities for the tablet too, reported the Wall Street Journal, adding that the technology could also be used for immersive videogames.

Two Project Tango phones are heading to the International Space Station during the upcoming Orbital 2 commercial resupply mission scheduled to launch on June 10. The phones will be attached to self-powered soccer-ball-sized robots called "Spheres" that will fly around inside the space station.

NASA will test how well the 3D modeling and visual odometry can be used to let the Spheres learn their environment based on what it sees, rather than relying on fixed sensors in the environment. One day, the 3D phones could also be used to fly around the outside of the space station or even for NASA's plans to land on an asteroid.

(See video of the Tango phone and Spheres at NASA in a YouTube video.)

Google is not the only company investing in advanced 3D tech. Facebook is also interested and is in the process of buying Oculus VR, the developer of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset for about US$2 billion. That acquisition is about much more than gaming though. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees it as the next major computing platform, one that will be used for shopping, communication, education and more.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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