Experience your new kitchen in the comfort of your own corner of someone elses’ store
Lowe’s is building the first announced business application for new indoor mapping technology developed by Alphabet’s Google. The retailer wants customers to use the technology to map the rooms of their homes and visualise how products will look.
Google’s effort, called Project Tango, uses advanced computer vision, depth sensing and motion tracking technology to build on screen 3D maps of surrounding indoor spaces in real-time. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, Lenovo Group Ltd. said it would build and sell the first smartphone that supports it. That phone will be ready this summer.
Lowe’s has already been working for months on its app with Google and it should be ready this summer, said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. Mr. Nel sees it as an extension of the retailer’s earlier efforts with virtual and augmented reality at its innovation labs.
The idea with the app is that a customer would hold up a Tango enabled smartphone or tablet to look at, say, the customer’s kitchen. The device would render a 3D map of the space which the customer could manipulate by dragging and dropping a refrigerator or bar stools into the appropriate location to see if it would fit and how it would look. Lowe’s takes products from the 3D database it began building for previous innovation projects. Because Lowe’s has already scanned the products, customers would see immediately if a product didn’t fit well before the delivery guys showed up.
Project Tango uses several different types of technologies to be able to do this kind of 3D mapping. A depth sensor, currently not available on most mobile devices, uses projected infrared light to estimate depth based on how the light is shaped by objects in the room. The device’s simultaneous localization and mapping functionality allows the software to learn about a room while keeping track of a user’s current position in it. For motion tracking, Project Tango uses visual-inertial odometry to estimate where a device is relative to where it started. This technology works indoors unlike GPS. In addition, standard visual odometry uses camera images to determine a change in position by looking at the relative position of different features in those images.
Using smartphones to overlay images, such as refrigerators, onto the real world photos of kitchens is an example of augmented reality. While Lowe’s may be relatively new to Project Tango, it has quite a bit of experience with augmented and virtual reality, including a home improvement simulator called the Lowe’s Holoroom that lets shoppers essentially build 3D models of rooms. Lowe’s work with holorooms attracted Google’s attention for Project Tango, said Mr. Nel. There are about half a dozen Lowe’s stores in the US where customers can use holoroom capabilities using a variety of technologies including Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.
Google is now looking for ideas from developers for apps running on the Project Tango platform. The company said it is looking for partners that can invest and sustain the app over time. “We’d love to hear from businesses of all types that are ready to commit developer time,” said Eric Johnson, a technical program manager for Google’s Project Tango.
As for Lowe’s, its previous preparation with Holoroom helped in building the app with Google, said Mr. Nell. He anticipates that Project Tango will simplify modeling rooms for both Lowe’s and customers. “In this new world, you don’t have to do a lot of the really painful and onerous things that you have to currently like scanning a room or printing out markers,” he said.