Smartphones are expansive in their capabilities. If you have a meeting across town, your phone can access your calendar, find the optimal route to that meeting, calculate travel time to your destination, give you vocal directions as you drive there, help you find parking, prepay the parking meter from that phone, and get you in the door. But, once you’re inside that building, your phone becomes somewhat less useful. Google tango.

Imagine the same scenario but with an airport. Or a mall. Or a grocery store. Or a convention center. Or one of a hundred other large, indoor spaces. Sending you to a specific location within one of those large structures, after GPS is no longer within reach, would require detailed positional awareness from your phone… all by itself. Even the most advanced phones are not currently capable of that.

That could all change. And soon.

According to a recent article in the MIT Technology Review (worth reading in its entirety), Johnny Lee, an engineer at Google, was frustrated by the weak state of indoor cell tracking technologies. So he decided to fix it, and created Tango:

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 to add even more boss-level features to Tango, Lee incorporated augmented reality (AR) as well. MIT Technology Review expands:

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.

The addition of super sensitive, self aware mobile measurement capabilities bring an entire slew of new apps and functions into the realm of possibility. You could build a grocery list on your phone, pair it to a specific store, and your app could figure out where every item on your list is within the store, and figure out the most efficient way to move through the store to get what you want, and then guide you right to the aisle and shelf with your item(s) on it — not to mention finding the closest grocery store with all your necessary items as well as navigating you around traffic to get there in the first place.

This could have huge business implications, too. Imagine 3D schematics for builders or repair workers so they could find the right pipe, fuse box, etc. Inventory management for warehouse workers becomes three dimensional and intuitive in a way it wasn’t before (assuming you don’t use robots Amazon-style). It would empower field service reps in a way few technologies before it could. The possibilities are endless.

To be fair, there are a lot of things that have to happen between now and this described future for Tango to achieve necessary critical mass. That said, it might just well be one of the biggest breakthroughs affecting our lives in the years to come.


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Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is a veteran entrepreneur and co-founder of Dallas-based digital product studio ENO8. Jeff and his business partner, Rishi Khanna, created ENO8 to empower companies of all sizes to design, develop and deliver innovative, impactful digital products. With more than 18 years working with early-stage startups, Jeff has a passion for creating and growing new businesses from the ground up, and has honed a unique ability to assist companies with aligning their technology product initiatives with real business outcomes.

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