Project Tango

  • Google's Project Tango - and Why a 3D Model is Not an Indoor Map


    Indoor Mapping is About to be Revolutionized

    Project Tango phone hand

    A few weeks ago, I posted a tweet about Google's "Project Tango": logo

    This is the kind of mind-boggling, "insanely great" technical advance that Google is righly famous for.  

    And there are lots of other advances happening concurrently now with LIDAR and other technologies for rapidly building incredibly accurate 3D models of buildings - both inside and outside.  

    For just one example of this, take a look at Zeb1 / Zebedee, where one person using a handheld scanner can build a 3D model accurate to one centimeter in the time it takes to walk the hallways:

    ZEB1 DataLogger web resized 600

    This is the kind of technology that makes a company dedicated to Indoor Mapping and Navigation salivate! We are committed to exploiting such technologies and approaches to make the most accurate Indoor Maps, more efficiently and effectively than any other Enteprise service provider.

    But Data is Not Information - and Definitely not a Map

    As excited as we are about this coming revolution in Indoor Mapping tools like Project Tango, it is critical to understand that a 3D model is not a map.

    Let's look forward a few years from now (maybe less). Using Tango or a similar technology, Connexient will be able to send our map "go team" out to a client facility and build a 3D model - all the actual dimensional data along with complete photographic capture, dynamically married to GPS X/Y - and building Z - coordinates of a very large building in a matter of days.

    That will be a fantastic tool for building a comprehensive 3D data set and representation of a building. But a user "walking" through such a model will be just as lost as the one walking through the real building. This is data capture for mapping, not the map.

    In the same way, the satellite photographs that Google (and others) use also is not the map.   It is very useful visual information that has many powerful user applications.  But that is not the map, and definitely not a data set for turn-by-turn navigation.  

    It is only after we have captured comprehensive, accurate data that the work of mapmaking required for Indoor Navigation and Location-based Services actually starts.  This involves challenges like adding meta-data that is relevant, eliminating extraneous data that is unimportant to the user, correlating data on POIs, places, people and so on to the map. 

    That requires - and for next 5 or 10 years at least will continue to require - a lot of hard, detail oriented, painstaking work by human beings.  And keeping the data accurate requires good tools and techniques for both map-checking and making it easy for users to report errors and changes as they are encountered.   

    3D is Lousy for Maps

    This may seem like a funny thing to say for a company that prides itself on our rich, interactive 2.5D Indoor Mapping and Navigation UX.   But its true, and the distinction is crucial. 

    My brother has worked for 3DVia, a 3D modeling start-up and then acquired division of Dassault Systems for the last 10 years.   Dassualt is among other things the equivalent of AutoCAD for building airplanes, factories, refineries, etc.  So he knows a thing or two about 3D.

    To summarize many discussions over the last couple of years - and his experience over the last 10 - tools for 3D have come a long way, but nearly far enough for anything other than very high end Enterprise and Entertainment types of applications.  The problem is fundamentally not technical.  

    Once you make the jump to "3D", you are:

    1. making a commitment to a level of detail in data, design & everything else that creates prohibitive cost;

    2. You are adding resource load onto the CPU and RAM that is still beyond what is generally available in mobile devices or PCs;

    3. generally adding complexity that is beyond most general purpose computers - it has been very hard to get 3D to work well except on dedicated specialized hardware and oftware.

    To understand this, take a look at Panda3D for example:

    The minute you go 3D, the user is conditioned - thanks to games & movies - to expect photorealism.  No matter what technology you use to capture raw data, doing this well is very difficult and very expensive.   No doubt the end result is super cool and compelling.   But not an efficient way to go about mapping.

    In a Map, Less is More

    The key reason for this is that when it comes to maps, less is more.    A map needs to reduce information to what is important and necessary for the user objective.  In most cases, this is getting somewhere efficiently.  

    When you then combine map information with turn-by-turn directions in the carefully synchronized dance ofnavigation, the need to reduce information becomes even more acute.  The challenge here is to provide the right information - and only the right information - at exactly the right time so that a user can make a navigation decision without distraction and information overload.

    That's why Connexient selected the "3D-like" UX for our Indoor Maps.  This approach - especially the "birds-eye view" that gives the user context of what comes next  - adds real value to the map and navigation UX - but does that without the overhead of true 3D.

    3D Will Become More Accessible, But . . . 

    There are two curves converging to an intersection sometime in the next decade that will make 3D more viable and accessible for non-gaming and filmaking applications. 

    1. Technologies like Zebedee and Tango that are dramatically increasing the efficiency of gathering the data / doing the 3D modeling of the "real world"; and

    2. the continuing increase in processing power & resources on devices coupled with slow improvement in the 3D software platforms.

    When these curves cross, there is no doubt user interest and demand for 3D will increase dramatically.  But what this is not going to do is decrease by much the cost of producing 3D models that look good and feel real.

    The key question for Enterprise Indoor Mapping and LBS is that of cost versus the user and business objective.  What purpose does a 3D model serve?   

    For Indoor Navigation 360 Degree Photo Models Will Dominate

    There are already lots of good examples out there of how this kind of complete virtual photographic model of a facility has other valuable applications in operations, security ("situational awareness") and so on.

    And when it comes to the Indoor Map, the concept of Google Street View with 360 degree navigable interior photos is obvious, and one that Connexient is already pursuing. That type of immersive representation of the real world - when and only exactly when it is needed by the user - is very helpful.  

    Combine this with the ability capture, geo-locate and reference such photos cost-effectively, and it is a very powerful addition to our Indoor Mapping solution. 

    But Is Mostly Irrelevant to Indoor Navigation

    It all comes back to that simple truth: when it comes to Indoor Maps and Navigation, less is more.  The last thing somebody walking down a hallway needs to be looking at is the picture of the hallway they are walking down.   To pre-plan a route or confirm where you have arrived at the right place?  Sure.  But not while in transit.

    What you need while in transit is a simple, intuitive set of choreographed visual and audio cues of when to turn where, and what important information that can be easily observed in the world around you can be correlated to that.

    Let's again step forward a few years and think about a world, perhaps, where millions of users stroll around with Google Glasses on.

    Google Glass

    It is easy to envision then that the visual representation of the map goes away entirely.  The user will not even view a map, much less a 3D model.  Rather, the will have the map and navigation information and cues projected onto the real world they are observing and navigating. 

    While the Map Remains Critical

    The other simple truth - and Connexient's mantra - is that the Map Really Matters.  The different ways of visualizing a map are also important.   But at the end of the day, it is the accuracy of the underlying map data and metadata - and how it is correlated - that make it useful.   

    No matter how compelling, beautiful and elegant the UX, if the map does not get the user infallibly to where he or she wants to go in an intuitive way, it will not be used.  

    So we remain eager and enthusiastic early adopters in every technology that will make that job faster, more accurate and less expensive - while keeping a perspective and focus on what will actually be useful, not just cool!

  • One of the Early Killer Use Cases for Project Tango in Healthcare: Guiding the Visually Impaired

    This article focuses on one of the most valuable early use cases in Healthcare - and generally for Tango - being prototyped at Purdue University.

    While the "beeping" UI here has a specific context and use case based on similar tools that the visually impaired already use, it seems ripe for enhancements with voice and other audio prompts

    This use case highlights and draws on some of the things that are truly unique to Tango. With BLE or Cisco-based navigation-quality indoor positioning, for example, our MediNav Navigator could easily help to guide a visually impaired user end-to-end across a large facility, as well as provide location-based information and services that are useful. But it would be only a partial solution at best.

    With Tango, on the other hand, we will be able to not only navigate the user, but literally see the environment for them. Tango can recognize spatial relationships and objects in way far more similar to how our own brains do. This makes it possible to help the visually impaired both avoid obstacles on this journey and also embed information about the environment and objects that are useful.

    One very simple example of this would be recognizing and being able to guide the user precisely to a water fountain. Or point their device towards a wall, perhaps, and scan and read all the signs and options that are on it. The key point is that almost all of the things in terms of navigating an environment that the "sighted" person takes for granted and are so difficult for the visually impaired now becomes possible again.

    There is a good stretch of road ahead to make all this practical as a complete solution and ready in a market sense, but the number of ways that Indoor Navigation + Augmented Reality can be combined for user benefit seem almost endless!


    To learn how Connexient can provide Indoor Maps, Navigation and Location Services improve Patient & Visitor Experience, increase efficiency and capture lost revenue for your organization, please contact us.

  • Project Tango and 3D Indoor Mapping: the Future is Not Quite Now

    Project Tango is Getting Mindshare

    We get excited inquiries quite frequently these days from clients and prospects about "3D Mapping." After some back and forth, we can usually trace it back to someone having seen a video or demo of Project Tango - Google's amazing ATAP project.


    Project TangoWe think that is great! As technology and Indoor Mapping geeks, we get pretty excited any time people want to talk about it. This is absolutely a time of revolutionary technologydriven change in mapping generally and indoor mapping in particular. Project Tango is driving a cost vs. capability curve for Indoor Mapping that is truly a game changer. We first started blogging about this last year and will continue to track it for our clients.

    So, we are following all the developments intently, are a registered Project Tango developer and have our own R & D project starting shortly on how we can apply this technology to deliver value to our clients and end users.

    But It Is Just Part of a Wave of 3D Modeling and Mapping

    Google did not invent Project Tango out of a vacuum. Rather, it provided the leadership, resources and impetus to bring together advances of the last several decades across different areas with a clear goal to revolutionize indoor modeling and mapping. Google deserves full credit and kudos for this.

    But it is worth noting that there are even more advanced and much more stable and productized solutions out there.
    Matterport is one example of these.

    MatterportWhat they have achieved to make photo resolution 3D modeling accessible is absolutely astonishing.

    Try Matterport

    Combine Matterport with Occulus Rift and you've got the Star Trek Holodeck 300 years ahead of schedule!


    So, we have been looking for a visionary, early adopter client that would like to take the plunge with us in 3D mapping!

    But the Future Is Not Quite Here Yet

    We do think it is important to provide some perspective and a word of caution on the technology, however.

    1. A 3D Model is Not the Same Thing as an Indoor Map

    This is essential to understand. We first wrote about this last year:

    Google\'s Project Tango - and Why a 3D Model is Not an Indoor Map

    As fantastic and dazzling as Project Tango promised to be, it will not replace the actual work of mapping. Without the human intellectual process of making sense of the data that Project Tango captures, the user will be just as lost inside the 3D Model as they are in the real building!

    Project Tango will make Indoor Mapping faster and easier to be sure. But a 3D model is not a map.

    2. This is very bleeding edge technology. i.e. Immature

    Aisle411 did a very cool project with Walmart last year, for example.

    Really fun, fantastic, visionary - and very successful proof-of-concept. But it did not go into every Walmart store or even stay in the one where it was piloted.

    That's not because the technology was not great. Simply that it is not mature, and more importantly still searching for the right ways to apply it that consumers actually want to use. Pioneers like Aisle411 and Walmart will find that formula and the technology will become more stable. But not without a lot of trial and error along the way.

    3. There are almost certain to be some setbacks

    I would just point to the recent pullback by Google on Google Glasses as Exhibit A.

    4. The devices that can take advantage of Tango are not even on the market yet, and will be very high end and oriented towards gaming and professional applications for at least the next several years.

    LG is the only OEM that has signed up so far, and after a lot of announcements at last year's Google I/O there have been no further details.

    5. There are some fundamental UX challenges in using this for Wayfinding

    When we arrive at the day the user will still always need to hold the phone up so that it can "see" the building. While that will be find for some types of users, it will be a real problem for others especially as a solution for the range of demographics at a hospital. Or even for a superhip conventiongoer walking through miles long exhibits!

    A much easier and better user experience and for a variety of reasons technically superior will be to either:

    1. rely primarily on an audio UX with the map on your smartphone for occasional reference what we do now and the universal UX for incar navigation; or

    2. put on a Google Glasses device where the “invisible map” can be superimposed on the real world a user is actually seeing.

    Want to Do Some 3D Modeling or Mapping? Let Us Know!

    We absolutely know this technology will revolutionize our business and have huge positive benefits to clients and end users. We just cannot in good conscience recommend it as ready for mass deployment and broad consumer uses.

    But you can rest assured that we are excited and eager to cut the path with early adopters and visionaries that can and are willing to take the bumps and bruises along with us. If you are one of them, please contact us!

  • Wondering How Project Tango Can Be Used for Indoor Mapping? Watch This Video.

    Google Shows off Augmented Reality Applications of Project Tango at GTC

    For most geeks, "Augmented Reality" seems mostly to pertain to gaming.  OK I get that!

    But for us Indoor Mapping & LBS geeks, Project Tango's unique ability to both capture reality and then augment itis what is truly breathtaking. To get a sense of exactly that that means and how it will be applied to indoor mapping and navigation, just take a look at the first two minutes of this video, and then 4:50 to 5:45. 

    So - if you accept the idea that somebody is willing to hold their phone up to say waist level while navigating a very large building - and that's a big if - then Project Tango is the mapping system, mapping platform, indoor positioning and indoor navigation all in one.

    I stand my ground that this is much more suitable short term to professional users and use cases of various sorts (e.g. a Facilities staff or security maybe?) then patient/visitor wayfinding. Sure, there will be some early adopters that will love it.  But your typical 55+ year old patient is not going to hold up their phone - much less a mini-tablet - for 20 or 25 minutes.

    And they definitely are not going to pay the price differential for a Tango-capable tablet until it is only marginally higher than a typical cell phone.

    But there is absolutely no doubt that this a technology revolution, and one that will be embraced and applied in all kinds of compelling ways. Indoor Mapping & Navigation is just one more of those.

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