Tango Daydreams: VR potentially goes deeper

Late last year there was a flurry of interest in VR headsets from Oculus, HTC, Sony etc… and then everyone went back to work. Earlier this year, Google announced Daydream, the super augmentation of Cardboard, their everyman VR app. This consists of a posh version of the phone-in-a-headset Cardboard device, with the addition of a handheld device as an additional controller. Very positive reactions, but still lukewarm: it could be great.

Google’s project Tango had been simmering in the background for years, until last month, when they finally launched it properly with some apps and a reference device, the Lenovo Phab 2. Project Tango is an Augmented Reality system: a phone/tablet with 3D sensing cameras allowing you to map the space around you in 3D and virtually stick things to it, eg. put a virtual screen on a blank wall, or a virtual vase on a table. Again, positive, but lukewarm reactions. Part of the tepid response was based on the fact that the Tango device is not Daydream compatible.

Why does that matter?

Daydream is fully immersive: your head is closed away in a virtual world. You need to be in a trusted space, preferably with no sharp or fragile objects in your vicinity. Tango, on the other hand, superimposes screen-based graphics onto your real world, augmenting it with graphics. But just via a little phone or tablet screen that you hold up and move around.

Now, imagine the combined Tango Daydream: a graphically augmented real world, viewed via a headset rather than a handheld screen. This is much more than lukewarm. It surpasses pure game and/or industrial applications. It has the potential to bridge leisure and productivity, just as the phone app did. That means mass consumption, mass development, mass opportunity. It could finally bring VR to the mainstream.

As of the beginning of November Google are combining Tango and Daydream into a single VR unit. Microsoft are already well underway with Hololens. There are still significant hurdles: Hololens, like Oculus, Vive and the other decent VR headsets, is tethered to a PC. The wireless devices suffer limited graphics or battery life problems. The Tango Daydream may not tackle all of these, but it may be enough to fizz the mass market and drive real investment to crack these issues.

So, I predict 2018 will be the year of mass Augmented Reality. Staring at little screens will be supplemented by staring through headsets tethered to phones. Our daily lives will have a constant, visual software fabric, an overlay that interprets what we see, measuring distances, translating signs, providing additional signs and directions. Providing a full ontology of the world around us. As the devices sense more, so they will enrich big datasets, just as phones augment navigation and big imagery sets today. You could produce architectural drawings of your house by simply walking through it. Consider whether a new fridge in a shop will fit in that space in the kitchen by overlaying it, based on measurements your headset makes. Why swipe left or right when you can see the info about people (that they want you to see) as you look at them? It will raise more questions about privacy as anonymity becomes further diminished.