Google and NVIDIA: It Takes Two to Tango

Google has chosen NVIDIA's Tegra K1 processor to power a new development tablet for Project Tango, a technology that allows a mobile device to create a 3D map of its environment in real time. Here's what it means for Google and NVIDIA.

Jun 10, 2014 at 9:00PM

Back in February, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) announced Project Tango, an initiative through its Advanced Technology and Projects group that aims to use a mobile device to map the world around it through the use of cameras and full 3D tracking of the device. The original device was a smartphone powered by a chip from Qualcomm, and 200 of these phones were shipped to developers in March. But Google has recently shifted to a tablet form factor, now offering a development kit built around a 7-inch tablet powered by NVIDIA's (NASDAQ:NVDA) Tegra K1 processor.

What is Project Tango?
The Project Tango device uses its 3D position tracking data and input from its camera to produce a 3D map of its environment in real time. Some examples of possible applications listed on Google's website are:

  • Capturing the dimensions of a room by walking around it
  • Much like Google Maps provides directions to buildings, indoor areas could be mapped in order to provide directions inside of buildings
  • Navigation assistance for the visually impaired
  • Augmented reality games

Project Tango is certainly an interesting piece of technology, and a video showing some of its features can be viewed on Google's website.

What this means for Google
The Project Tango devices run Android, and the developer APIs allow standard Android applications to access the data produced by the system, including applications created using the Unity Game Engine. Games are the most obvious application, and bringing this technology to Android devices could completely change mobile gaming. Google lists some examples for possible gaming applications on its website:

Imagine playing hide-and-seek in your house with your favorite game character, or transforming the hallways into a tree-lined path. Imagine competing against a friend for control over territories in your home with your own miniature army, or hiding secret virtual treasures in physical places around the world?

This technology could also eventually be a competitor to virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift. While Project Tango is currently in tablet form, a head-mounted display in the future is certainly possible.

Beyond games, having a large number of Project Tango devices in the wild will help Google collect even more data than it already does. Google's entire business is built around using data for advertising purposes, and Project Tango opens up new possibilities on that front.

Like Google Glass and driverless cars, Project Tango is another project from Google with plenty of potential but no clear path toward generating any profits for the company. But with NVIDIA and a slew of other partners committed to the project, commercial devices could be coming sooner rather than later.

What this means for NVIDIA
NVIDIA has struggled to get its Tegra chips into mainstream mobile devices, and now the company is focused on the kinds of devices where visual computing and graphics matter. One area where NVIDIA has been successful so far is automobiles, where Tegra chips are used for both powering the in-car display as well as driver assistance features. NVIDIA's newest mobile chip, the Tegra K1, has 192 graphics cores and is based on the same graphics architecture as NVIDIA's desktop processors. Project Tango, which needs to analyze enormous amounts of image data in real-time, is a perfect fit for the Tegra K1.

If Project Tango ends up resulting in commercial devices, there's a good chance that NVIDIA's Tegra chips are going to be powering them. NVIDIA has invested a lot of effort in bringing its Kepler graphics architecture to mobile, and while the Tegra division is still not profitable, moving the Android gaming market beyond addictive money-grabs like Candy Crush Saga and toward a gaming experience that is unmatched on any other platform could give the Tegra division a real boost.

The bottom line
Project Tango is an interesting piece of technology with plenty of possible applications, and it has the potential to greatly enhance gaming on Android. This is great news for NVIDIA, which views Android as an important gaming platform and has even launched its own Android-powered handheld gaming console called Shield. It may be a while before anything tangible comes from Project Tango, but it's certainly worth watching.

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Timothy Green owns shares of Nvidia. The Motley Fool recommends Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google (A shares) and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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