US chipset maker Intel and Google are teaming up on a 3D imaging project that could pave the way for driverless cars and autonomous robots. Intel announced at its developers’ conference in San Francisco that it would combine its RealSense 3D imaging technology with Google’s Project Tango into a smartphone developer kit. Project Tango is designed to give smartphones the ability to learn and navigate areas in three dimensions, with applications for virtual reality gaming and 3D scanning, among other functions. The RealSense developer kits supporting Project Tango are expected to become available to select Android developers by year-end. Intel also announced that RealSense would be compatible with most operating systems, including Mac OS X and Linux, and game development tool Unreal Engine 4.
Release the robots
This deal represents Google’s second partnership relating to Project Tango, following the release of a 7-inch tablet earlier in 2015 for developers powered by Nvidia’s Tegra K1 processor. Google has also piloted the technology on the International Space Station with NASA’s SPHERES technology, to create autonomous robots that can take measurements and monitor air quality. Meanwhile, Intel’s RealSense chips are being used by robotics company Savioke for its Relay robotic butler, which is being piloted in hotels and hospitals.
The ability to scan and perceive in 3D will be crucial to making these devices work as required, so the Intel-Google agreement will help to improve the technology and expand its reach to additional use cases.
While other cited use cases include gaming, this partnership will likely help Google in other so-called moonshot projects, such as its driverless car. Perceiving objects in 3D will help vehicles better assess oncoming traffic and their surroundings, making for safer drives and more efficient navigation. Given the prototype car’s size and the chipset’s power requirements, Google will ultimately even be able to fit more powerful versions of the RealSense camera and Tango chip into driverless cars.
Other possible applications include using infrared and standard vision to make interfaces for smart eyewear, which would potentially make Google Glass a competitor to other existing smart glasses such as the Epson Moverio BT-200 as well as providing heads-up displays for cars. These uses are similar to what was suggested when Apple bought German computer vision specialist Metaio; Apple had previously bought Israeli computer vision specialist PrimeSense, which provided early versions of Tango.
Augmented Reality: Edging toward Mass Awareness, TE0001-000888 (October 2014)
“Apple buys Metaio for foothold in computer vision,” TE0004-001029 (June 2015)
Francesco Radicati, Senior Analyst, Digital Services