Google, known for Google Glass and the self-driving car, is changing the way we interact with mobile devices with their new product – Project Tango Tablet Development Kit (TDK). Google came to Speck Design with the technology for a tablet capable of scanning and digital mapping. Using a sophisticated sensor array, TDK provides instant 3D mapping of a physical environment as the user navigates through space. The system can perceive depth, shape, and form, just as human eyes can. Speck Design was charged with giving shape to this tool that would allow software designers to explore the possibilities of 3D scanning technology.
Speck Design approached the design and technical challenges from the experience of using the device. What are the potential use case scenarios? Is the tablet intuitively and thoughtfully designed? Does it feel natural to hold in your hand? In addressing these concerns around the physical interaction between user and tablet, we focused on solving the main challenges: the angle of the camera array, hand placement, and device orientation. By targeting these three key areas, we sought to create an intuitive tablet experience, wherein the environment could accurately be captured in digital form and displayed to the user. For the device to accurately map the environment, the cameras need to remain unobscured. This necessitated a landscape bias orientation, due to the cameras’ horizontal layout.
While the initial research findings determined the ideal camera angle, the results also influenced the final industrial design concept, specifically around the placement of the user’s hands. Inspired by a game controller design, we created a soft grip scoop on the back of the tablet to let the user comfortably hold the device, while preventing camera occlusion. The incorporation of front facing speaker grills allowed tablet use without speaker or camera obstruction, thus maximizing the positive visual and auditory experience. Our subtle yet purposeful design features, including the wedge-like profile, create an all-encompassing intuitive experience that encourages the user to hold the tablet naturally in a landscape orientation for full range of vision.
By carefully integrating the sensors into a raised handle feature, the Speck Design team created a visually compact and unified design solution with great usability and ergonomics. According to Johnny Chung Lee, Project Lead at ATAP, “we are physical beings that live in a 3D world, yet mobile devices today assume that the physical world ends at the boundaries of the screen.” With TDK, this will no longer be the case. The way in which the user research was structured, emphasizing actual use case scenarios, and capturing emotional responses when tasks were or were not achieved was crucial to project success. The Project Tango Tablet Development Kit signifies a new way to marry tablet technology with computer vision. The camera on the device can capture the world not just through video and photos, but also through size, distance, and temporal and spatial relationships, opening the door to a new form of visual experience.