Lenovo, Google partner on Project Tango smartphone

The smartphone is loaded with sensors and promises to be a window to a richer physical world

Lenovo is partnering with Google to develop a new smartphone that could change the way people see and understand the physical world around them.

The smartphone, which is being developed as part of Google's Project Tango, is packed with sensors to identify and understand motion, gestures, location and objects in real and virtual worlds.

The smartphone -- which has no name yet -- will have a screen size under 6.5 inches, and be priced under US$500. It will be available in summer this year, Lenovo said at a press conference at CES on Thursday. 

Once switched on, the handset's screen will provide a wealth of information on a user's location and objects in view. The smartphone will be able to recognize rooms in houses, offices, outdoor or other locations.

Sensors in the smartphone will be able to track movement and gestures, much like Microsoft's Kinect. The smartphone will know if a person is moving up or down, left or right, forward or backward. As a user moves, the information overlaid on the smartphone's screen changes in real time.

The Project Tango technology could help guide users to meeting rooms, or to specific objects in a home. Sensors in the device will recognize shapes and objects close by. The smartphone screen will also be a window to virtual or augmented reality worlds, which can be superimposed on real-world environments. That could be used for advanced gaming and as a training tool.

The smartphone will also measure distances. For example, it will be able to measure the distance of a room or the size of furniture. That helps when shopping, and has applications in businesses like real estate.

Capturing the visual details and location information requires considerable hardware. Qualcomm is also participating in the development of the smartphone, and will likely provide the chips for the smartphone and camera.

But these capabilities will only come to the smartphone if applications are written. Google offers the Project Tango software development kit. The company is holding a contest for which it is welcoming developers to submit applications until Feb 15, and winners will be funded

Other Project Tango devices are already available. Google is shipping a Project Tango tablet based on Nvidia's K1 processor for $512, and Intel's 3G smartphone with a 3D RealSense camera and Atom processor code-named Cherry Trail can be ordered on the chip-maker's website.

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