What Tango mobile technology can do

Thorsten Stremlau

Friday 6 January 2017

Thorsten Stremlau, Lenovo’s WW Principal IT Architect, on what this amazing new mobile technology can do for you and your industry.

Spatial awareness

Tango is a way of giving your phone spatial awareness. At the moment, your phone can track where it is using Wi-Fi or GPS, so you can see where you are even inside a building. But it’s not aware of its spatial context. So it doesn’t know if it’s on a desk, next to a door, if it’s going downstairs, if the person holding it is walking or sitting etc. Tango gives it that awareness, and opens up a world of possibilities.

It’s been in the works for a couple of years. At CES in January 2016, Google and Lenovo showed off the first consumer phone using the technology: the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro. The phone was launched last November, costing 1,999 AED.

In a nutshell, Tango consists of a really, really sensitive gyroscope within the phone that knows if you’re moving it from left to right, if you’re turning or twisting it, and all sorts of other things. That’s combined with a 3D depth-perception camera.

As a person, you know which direction you’re looking in, and thanks to Tango, so does the phone. Using the 3D camera, you can measure the room and make a complete 3D map of it relatively easily.

Potential uses

This is a game-changer. It completely changes the way you interact with your environment by serving up contextually relevant information based on your location and activity. Now it’ll know it’s in the kitchen, say, and that this is where you want to know your calorie intake, or look at the recipe for tonight’s dinner, or to see your calendar. Once all smartphones have built-in projectors – some already do, as do some tablets – it can project this information onto the wall.

Because it’s context aware, it would know if someone else was in the room, and whether you’ve set it to share this information with that person. Though my wife always seems to know how much I’ve eaten anyway!

This also means big things for augmented reality and virtual reality. If you wanted, you could model a room, then post it into a Google Maps-type area. And there you go, you’ve effectively got Google Street View but without the need for cars equipped with 360-degree cameras. You could then play games in a virtual model of your own environment, for example.

Suddenly, your phone becomes a whole new device. Combine it with a virtual reality headset, like the Oculus Rift, and the possibilities are endless.

Current uses 

This has huge implications. One day, I believe all phones will be equipped with this technology, or something very similar. But it’s already making its presence felt in various industries.

Retail, for instance. You can measure a room down to the millimetre and check to see whether a chair or desk fits. Import an exact model of your room into virtual reality, and you can walk around and see how it’ll look once kitted out with the furniture you’re thinking of buying. You can see it from all angles as well, making it much more interactive than a still photo.

Healthcare also stands to benefit. Lenovo works with a company that makes custom-fitted 3D-printed casts for broken bones. Using Tango, you can quickly scan the arm or leg that’s injured and measure exactly how big the cast needs to be. Our partner’s casts have holes in them, so your skin can breathe, and even electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) sensors embedded in them. These are the same as those found in the toning belts people use to get a six-pack, but in this case, they keep your muscles stimulated so when the cast comes off you haven’t lost all your strength.

Another healthcare use is in wound-healing analysis. The technology can measure the size and depth of a wound and how it varies over time. Armed with this information, doctors can see whether the wound is healing as quickly as it should be, and change treatment accordingly.

Education will also benefit hugely from the technology, whether you’re reading documents projected on the air in front of you, or presenting a scale model of a dinosaur in 3D.

The technology has been used in tablets more than in phones so far, but as it moves into the phone space, expect it to become ubiquitous. Like so many other technological advancements, it’ll just be something our phones can do. Pretty soon, we won’t even talk about it as a special feature.