Back in 2014 Google launched Project Tango, a program which would see special depth-sensing sensors added to the back of phones and tablets to make them aware of their surroundings. The information could be used for navigation, mapping, and also augmented reality. A small number of phones and tablets launched with the technology, but with low demand and due to bulk and cost the feature never took off.
Enter stage left Apple with ARKit, which somewhat like humans, simply uses a camera feed and artificial intelligence to create a 3D map of an area. Unlike Project Tango, it did not need any new sensors and could be rapidly rolled out to millions of iPhones. Google responded with ARCore, which is similar but somewhat more limited due to the heterogeneity of the Android ecosystem.
Today on Twitter Google announced that they have withdrawn support from Project Tango going forward, in favour of ARCore. They wrote:
We’re turning down support for Tango on March 1, 2018. Thank you to our incredible community of developers who made such progress with Tango over the last three years. We look forward to continuing the journey with you on ARCore. https://t.co/aYiSUkgyie
— Tango (@projecttango) December 15, 2017
The development is an interesting reminder that it’s not always doing it right or best that wins, but sometimes merely who can do it most.
We assume at some point when camera-based approaches reach their limit and sensors become small and cheap enough direct measurement of the environment will return, but in the meantime, it appears camera approximations and really smart software will have to do.