Google announced a new Android-based smartphone project that will map the world around the user. Dubbed “Project Tango,” the prototype utilizes three-dimensional motion sensors like those in Microsoft’s Kinect devices to track users’ movements and map their surroundings, according to Engadget. The developers’ kit comes with sensors and computer vision chips that can build a 3-D map of a room.

The prototype model phone is white and has a five-inch screen. It uses California start-up Movidius’ Myriad 1 vision processor platform, which not only detects depth and space, but also objects and context, Gizmodo reports.

Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) hardware group, one of the company’s acquisitions from Motorola, is the brains behind the phone. Johnny Lee, a former member of Microsoft’s Kinect team before leaving for Google in 2011, is the technical lead on the project. Lee explained in the announcement on Google’s website that “the goal of Project Tango is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion.”

ATAP has been researching for the project for the past year, working with universities and researchers across nine countries. Developers can sign up for access to these phones through Google, but only 200 developers will be granted permissions during its first run. The phones will be fully distributed by March 14 of this year.

Google is releasing the prototype to evaluate what kinds of applications developers can create using the software. Some ideas include immersive gaming and shopping experiences and expanded indoor navigation, although Google hopes that developers will submit app ideas that the company has yet to dream up.

Google’s website doesn’t address any privacy concerns regarding these types of sensors, such as what the phone will do with data once it’s been collected. The Xbox One, which has Kinect sensors built into the hardware, drew criticism from experts and users about similar privacy issues, as the device detects motion and objects within a room constantly when it is powered on. Microsoft maintained that the data captured by the Kinect, which features facial recognition capabilities, would only be stored on the device’s hardware and wouldn’t be shared with any third parties.

In the case of Project Tango, consumers will likely want to know whether the sensors can only be activated by certain applications, and some apps may face the same scrutiny as the Xbox One. Only time will tell how Google handles these kinds of concerns.

What would you do with this kind of technology? Sound off in the comments below and let us know your creative ideas.

Image courtesy of Flickr


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