Google Tango

Industrial Design / Engineering
Creative product design company
The Client

Google is a US-based, multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products but also includes online advertising technologies, a search engine, cloud computing, software, and hardware.

" technology, we need revolutionary change, not incremental change."
-Larry Page/Google

The Product

Tango is an augmented reality computing platform developed and authored by Advanced Technology and Projects, a skunkworks division of Google.

The Challenge

Google came to Speck with the technology for a tablet capable of scanning and digital mapping. The product, created to provide the instantaneous 3D mapping of a physical environment as the user navigates through space, would need to use a sophisticated sensor array. The main challenges were the angle of the camera array, hand placement, and device orientation so that the system could perceive depth, shape, and form, just as human eyes can. To Speck, this meant being hyper-cognisant of the shape to create one that would allow software designers to explore the possibilities of 3D scanning technology.

The process

The user research was structured to emphasize actual use case scenarios and captured emotional responses when tasks were or were not achieved. Speck, therefore, approached the design and technical challenges from the perspective of those who would be using the device. The team asked questions like: What are the potential use case scenarios? Is the tablet intuitively and thoughtfully designed? Does it feel natural to hold in your hand? These concerns (around the physical interaction between user and tablet) informed a large part of the design. 

For the device to accurately map the environment, the cameras need to remain unobscured. This necessitated a landscape bias orientation due to the camera's 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, Speck created a soft grip scoop on the back of the tablet to let the user comfortably hold the device while preventing camera occlusion. Incorporating front-facing speaker grills allowed tablet use without speaker or camera obstruction, thus maximizing the positive visual and auditory experience. The subtle yet purposeful design features, including the wedge-like profile, created an all-encompassing intuitive experience that encouraged the user to hold the tablet naturally in a landscape orientation for full range of vision.

the outcome

Google, known for Google Glass and the self-driving car, is now changing how we interact with mobile devices with their new product – Project Tango Tablet Development Kit (TDK). By targeting three key areas (camera array, hand placement, and device orientation), Speck created an intuitive tablet experience, wherein the environment could accurately be captured in digital form and displayed to the user. The Project Tango Tablet Development Kit signifies a new way to marry tablet technology with computer vision. The camera on the device captures the world through video and photos and through size, distance, as well as, temporal and spatial relationships. This has opened the door to an entirely new form of visual experience. Furthermore, by carefully integrating the sensors into a raised handle feature, the Speck team created a visually compact and unified design solution with superb 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.

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