If virtual reality is the future, it’s a pretty solitary one. Gamers used to invite friends and family over to play Wii Sports or rock out on Guitar Hero, but no one is going to want to spend an evening watching someone with a computer attached to their face wave their arms to manipulate an invisible virtual world.
Google’s Project Tango aims to change that bleak future. At Google I/O this week, the internet giant showed a demo that suggests we’re closer than we thought to a future in which you and your friend can walk around a room together and, say, mine blocks with a pickaxe in a virtual world.
Project Tango is the company’s campaign to give devices sight. It wants our phones and tablets to be aware of where they are in space.
Why is that important? Well, Google wants to map the world around us — indoors and out. With mapping info of a mall, for instance, you could walk in and the device would know precisely where you are and could give you augmented reality turn-by-turn navigation to the shoe department. Or, perhaps you want to buy that new arm chair but want to see how it fits in the living room. Tango could track the room and place the chair in an augmented reality space to make sure it’s the right chair for you.
Of course, the folks working on Project Tango are also dreaming of other, not-so-obvious ways this space-mapping tech can be used. During the I/O demo Thursday, the company showed how three people completely immersed in a virtual reality setting could interact with a real Project Tango tablet, both in physical and virtual space.
That looks and sounds pretty boring now, but just imagine the possibilities if the tablet were something else — maybe a laser gun. In a multiplayer game of VR Halo, for example, you could hand a gun to your friend who’s helping you shoot down Covenant Hunters. The company actually demoed at I/O and earlier this year how it could mount a device to the top of a toy gun and make for some great immersive target practice.
It’s also not hard to imagine how this tech could be used to create a painting app that lets you and a friend use different physical paint brushes to collaboratively partner to make a virtual work of art.
This kind of multi-person virtual reality could be closer to the real-life gaming market than we think. Google announced that the first Project Tango-enabled smart phone is coming from LG later this year. Facebook last month announced Minecraft is available on Samsung Gear VR, which is powered by a smartphone. Google also announced the development of “several” VR headsets that will work with Android phones running the latest Google software. So, stick a couple LG phones in Google’s VR headset and what’s to stop developers from enabling Minecraft multiplayer in virtual reality later this year?
You and your friends could be sharing a pickaxe and creating an entire virtual world in Minecraft together in a first-person, immersive experience in no time. Google already shared an onstage demo of two players stacking blocks in an augmented reality game of Jenga using the Tango-enabled LG phone.
The sound of all this might scare parents everywhere who are, as it is, having a hard time getting kids to go outside and experience the real world. But this future is just around the corner, all the same.