Google’s 3D-scanning Project Tango is coming to small tablets

Following the February release of a 3D-mapping phone, Google(s goog) is bringing the technology to tablets. Dubbed Project Tango, the devices use dual cameras and sensors to scan and sense the world around them, creating a 3D view of any place or subject. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google will create a limited run of  slates with the Project Tango technology:

“The company plans to produce about 4,000 of the prototype tablets beginning next month, according to people briefed on the company’s plans. The device would come with a 7-inch screen and will be equipped with two back cameras, infrared depth sensors and advanced software that can capture precise three-dimensional images of objects.”

Both phones and tablets under Google’s Project Tango are aimed at developers to see what kinds of applications can be created. Building interactive maps, creating models for 3D printers and improved object recognition are all reasonable uses of the technology. But by building the hardware and then providing a software kit or SDK to developers, it’s possible that new, unique use-cases can be created.

When Google announced Project Tango earlier this year, I likened it to putting a Microsoft(s MSFT) Kinect sensor into a phone. Although the effort is in its very early stages, I think it’s better suited for the bigger screen of a tablet, at least when it comes to 3D scanning. The basic premise behind 3D technology is to add more realism and immersion. That corresponds nicely to tablets, which offer the same features when compared to a smaller smartphone screen.

Google may even agree: The first run of Project Tango phones was limited to 200 units, while the WSJ reports that Project Tango tablets will number 4,000 at first. It’s simply easier to manipulate and interact with a 3D image on a 7-inch display rather than a 4-inch screen.

project tango phone

Will Project Tango result in anything tangible to consumers? Perhaps, but it’s far too soon to say. It’s relatively easy and not even that cost prohibitive to add a second camera for sensing depth — the HTC One M8 smartphone offers this — but that doesn’t mean doing so will add much value. For that, consumers will need compelling applications to take advantage of the extra sensors, which is a big reason Google is making the hardware available to developers.