A little over a week ago during AIA National I had a chance to sit down with John Bacus, product manager of SketchUp, and Paul Davis, of Trimble’s PR team, and be led through a demo of the company’s activities with Google’s Project Tango program.
Bacus showed me two concept apps running on proprietary Google hardware delivered uniquely to just developers within Google’s ‘Project Tango’ program. The Tango program is an initiative to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion. Sound cool?
How Does it Work
So here is how these apps work and what Project Tango is about. Essentially, a iPad-like tablet device (but not an iPad itself or Android pad itself) is provided to Project Tango based developers. Using depth sensors on the Tango device, developers can experiment with various apps that utilize depth and motion sensors to do all kinds of things.
In the case of Trimble, the company was showing two concept apps called SketchUp Scan and Trimble Through The Wall. These apps are aimed at showing new ways construction professionals could use their Google tablets for greater efficiency and insight on the job in the future. The concept apps were also demonstrated at Google’s I/O Developer Conference just shortly before AIA National Convention in Chicago.
Here’s an important take-away. The Tango device is Google hardware utilizing key technology from two Israeli start-ups. Mantis Vision and SagivTech are key partners in Project Tango. Of the two companies, Mantis is supplying the key ingredient up front in the form of their MV4D 3D engine. (see this YouTube vid of the MV4D engine). This engine processes data via structured light-based depth sensing algorithms. The Mantis software uses an active triangulation system to “observe” a scene from different points of view and takes into account dimensions, lighting, shadow and other information via a laser. That raw image gets processed into a 3D model. The Nvidia Tegra K1 mobile processor is also doing the heavy lifting on the hardware side.
We’ll talk about SagivTech’s interesting technology another time but it too is very cool and interesting.
Important to this take-away is that Mantis isn’t the first interesting depth and motion sensing tech startup out of Israel. PrimeSense of Israel helped Microsoft develop the Kinect system for its Xbox game console system and has since been purchased by Apple for 350 million US-dollars back in November of 2013. PrimeSense’s technology is also light-based and includes hardware in the form of a PrimeSense CMOS image sensor.
SketchUp Scan and Trimble Through The Wall
SketchUp Scan is a simple app that runs on Tango development hardware that can quickly scan a room by turning the device to aim at the room’s edges and utilizing the depth sensor technology discussed above can accurately create a 3D model of the room. John Bacus showed how this app creates a SketchUp model via this process on Tango hardware. It can also be uploaded directly to Trimble SketchUp 3D Warehouse.
“Many 3D applications for smartphones and tablets attempt to capture the full scope of a room, but SketchUp Scan has the unique ability to create an editable 3D SketchUp model,” said Omar-Pierre Soubra, director of Collaboration at Trimble. “Having the ability to edit the 3D model of the space right after the image capture enables users to add features—from windows and doors, to furniture, office equipment or nearly anything else—using millions of 3D models available in the 3D Warehouse.”
Trimble Through The Wall is actually cooler tech. Leveraging tracking capabilities on a Tango device, the app can reveal what is located inside or beyond walls, ceilings and other structure using data from BIM or 3D models, such as with Tekla Structures, to display in the field pipes, electrical wires, HVAC ductwork, et cetera, visible on the Tango device while visibly looking at building walls, at their correct location. This is a type of Augmented Reality (AR) scenario. And it has immense practical application.
“Trimble’s leadership in technologies for building design, construction and renovation—as well as our portfolio of positioning, modeling and visualization software—made it only natural for us to develop a Tango concept application that tracks and displays what is behind a wall,” said Bryn Fosburgh, vice president responsible for Trimble’s Construction Technology Divisions. “Since Tango devices are designed to be aware of their environment and location, they provide an excellent compliment to our strategy of making construction more efficient and transparent.”
Closing Notes and Analysis
Both of these apps are particularly useful but the latter one is truly an innovative technology application. In fact, the Trimble Through The Wall app would easily win BEST of SHOW if it was an available app today, even in beta or late alpha stage. Alas, Project Tango is provided only to professional developers, providing a “sandbox” in which they can experiment with various concept applications. You can learn more about Trimble’s work with Project Tango here.
One final note about Project Tango is that there was speculation that its first device, a Tango phone device, contained PrimeSense’s new Capri PS1200 SoC 3D imaging chip. But while this first device may have contained PrimeSense technology that doesn’t mean that the tablet Tango device shown at AIA had any Apple technology in it. Again, PrimeSense was acquired by Apple. A little deeper digging on our part can help sort out this question but another question remains very much harder to answer: when will Apple integrate PrimseSense technology into its iPhone and iPads so that they too can have such useful apps in development?