Kinect in a smartphone: Google’s moonshot Project Tango torn down

Google’s Project Tango is a smartphone with technological superpowers - it is equipped with an advanced custom-made processor and Kinect-like technology that allows it to make 3D indoor maps and scan its surroundings. On the outside, it looks just like a regular Android phone - save for its slightly weird, chubby and blocky body - but on the inside it's different. Up until now, all we had was specs of the phone, but now - luckily - device surgeons from iFixit got their hands on a Project Tango device to give it the usual teardown treatment and expose its internals. They were looking for answers, of course: what chips make the unique 3D mapping and scanning features of Project Tango possible, and how easy is it to repair the device?

And the answers did not have to wait long. iFixit found a lot of interesting stuff under the hood. First, the Movidius Myriad 1 co-processor (the main system chip is the Snapdragon 800), a tailor-made chip that makes the fast and accurate location scanning of Project Tango possible. Movidius CEO claims that this chip could lie in the foundation of a future vision processing unit, much like we have a CPU and a GPU right now, but we’re yet to see about that.

It is not just that chip, though. The cameras are another crucial component that makes Project Tango the unique location-scanning device that it is. Interestingly, iFixit fount out that what looks like a regular 4-megapixel OmniVision camera on it, turns out to be a sensor capable of detecting both RGB and infra-red (IR) light. It is this capability to detect IR light that allows for depth perception. How? A powerful (for a smartphone) array of LEDs beams IR light in the form of a grid of dots. The size of those dots differs depending on how close (small dot) or how far (larger dot) an object is. The sensor in Tango’s camera then captures light information from those dots, and measures the size differences between them to come up with a depth map. This whole process is eerily similar to the one Microsoft uses in its Kinect. You can actually see that projected IR grid in the breath-taking image above.

Finally, what this teardown reveals is just how easy a device is to repair. Luckily, in designing this technological new-comer, Google made sure it's a device that is easy to tear down and replace parts on, which is great. Tango scored 9 out of 10 in iFixit's repairibility rankings. 

Take a look at the step-by-step teardown below, but don't forget that as awesome as it all looks, Tango is not yet available for end-users. Only select developers can get it. Worry not, though - if the stars align right, such technology could arrive in smartphones in the not so distant future.

source: iFixit



10. AfterShock

Posts: 4147; Member since: Nov 02, 2012

Google, living the dream. This may wind up being a module on a project Ara phone, neat.

9. jpkelly05

Posts: 110; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

Or helmet. Or whatever you can imagine

8. jpkelly05

Posts: 110; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

By that last post I meant to say that 3D VR glasses would also be worn.

7. jpkelly05

Posts: 110; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

I keep thinking about live interlinking 3D VR worlds. Put a room setup with 5 of these devices for each wall, wear 3D VR gear and a game server equaling an awesome qaming experience. All we need is some interfacing wireless body gear for biofeedback - with pressure for our nerves to sense and controls allowing us to use game generated items- boom here we go lawnmower man.

6. Scott93274

Posts: 6044; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

So, what's the point of this? Get everyone in every city to go outside and use them to create 3D models of the globe for Google Earth? lol, I do find the tech interesting, but what's the point for the consumer to have it in their phone?

11. Victor.H

Posts: 1117; Member since: May 27, 2011

It can be used to see in the dark, kind of like Predator vision for your smartphone. It's also used for indoor mapping, not outdoors. The possible use includes robots (that would be able to quickly scan their surroundings) and augmented reality.

12. Scott93274

Posts: 6044; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

Alright, aside from the robots, you list some valid points of use for the average consumer. I think it would be very nice to use it to map out your house to create a 3D digital model then use that to manage smart-house functions like Nest, security cameras, or those smart LED light bulbs PA reported on a week or two back.

4. vijaysivakula

Posts: 229; Member since: Aug 17, 2011

Damn! Now Apple is going to build something like this into their iphone and sue every other device with this idea. How could iFixit do this?

13. Neutral

Posts: 30; Member since: Oct 19, 2013

C'mon man. These jokes are out of their primes. I'm not sure you can call 'em jokes anymore.

2. hassoups

Posts: 473; Member since: Jun 06, 2013

Google is the only one out of the big boys that still has the passion to think outside the box. The rest of it is with the small start-ups that are ultimately gobbled up by the big boys once they before they become big enough

3. hassoups

Posts: 473; Member since: Jun 06, 2013

Ahh PA dat edit button :/

5. Scott93274

Posts: 6044; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

I believe that is a true statement, though I have to wonder what they have planned with Boston Dynamics, Titan Aerospace, or their self driving cars. Maybe they can use the drones from Titan for Google Maps, but Boston Dynamic robots? I really wish I could have been in the room when they made the decision to buy that company.

1. PBXtech

Posts: 1032; Member since: Oct 21, 2013

JPL is involved, I'm sure NASA and the military are interested in what this can offer. Google is really working on something big with this project, can't wait to see where it goes from here.

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