Qualcomm Expands Support for Google's Project Tango

The chip maker will enable the Snapdragon 820 and future versions of the 600 and 800 series SoCs to support Google's AR technology.

Snapdragon chips

Qualcomm is supporting Google's Project Tango augmented reality initiative with two of its key Snapdragon chips and will increase support in future generations, which company officials said will expand access to the technology to greater numbers of smartphone users.

The officials noted that Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro device, which is the first on the market to include the Project Tango technology, is powered by Qualcomm's octa-core Snapdragon 652 system-on-a-chip (SoC). The company on June 29 said that the Google technology also is now supported on the high-end Snapdragon 820 chips, and that Qualcomm will support Tango on future generations of Snapdragon 600 and 800 processors.

"We're going to make Tango available on all of those chipsets," Seshu Madhavapeddy, vice president of product management at Qualcomm, told eWEEK.

Google introduced Project Tango in February 2014 as a way of bringing greater intelligence and computer vision to smartphones, tablets and phablets. That includes such use cases as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

The Tango initiative includes an array of sensors—gyroscope and accelerometer, and three camera sensors that include two new Tango-specific camera sensors, a fisheye motion tracking camera and a depth sensor camera—that collect and track large amounts of data that need to be processed in the device. Madhavapeddy said the heterogeneous nature of Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips makes them best suited to support Tango.

The chip maker over the past several years has worked to integrate a range of components onto the SoCs. For example, the Snapdragon 820 not only includes the Kyro CPU and Adreno graphics technology, but also the Hexagon digital signal processor (DSP), Spectra camera image signal processor (ISP) and low-power sensor processor. Those components will enable the chips to support Tango's various visual and sensor processing algorithms without the need for an external coprocessor to handle the Tango demands, and will leave the CPU and GPU free to run other user applications while keeping overall power consumption within the boundaries needed for a smartphone, officials said.

According to Qualcomm officials, the Snapdragon 600 and 800 series processors also include an integrated global high-frequency clock for accurate time stamping of the sensor data, which they said is needed for ensuring smooth augmented reality experiences, where 3D graphic overlays need to essentially track seamlessly with physical surroundings.

"The heterogeneous nature of Snapdragon [eliminates the] need for outside chip products," Madhavapeddy said. "We went about to eliminate all other external chipset features."

He said the goal is to expand the reach of the AR capabilities of Tango.

"We want it to be available to a broad set of consumers," Madhavapeddy said. "We didn't want to make it [an] exclusive [technology]."

Features on the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which was announced earlier this month, show what Tango will mean to device designs. The features include not only an 8-megapixel front camera and 16-megapixel rear camera, but also a depth camera and motion-tracking camera, as well as the accelerometer and gyroscope.

Qualcomm is the world's largest chip maker for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. As shipments of tablets have declined and the global market for smartphones has matured and slowed, Qualcomm has been aggressively extending its reach into a range of emerging growth areas, including connected cars, drones, VR and AR, and have argued that the heterogeneous capabilities within the Snapdragon SoCs make the processors more capable than those from competitors to run such new applications.

Madhavapeddy said that there are some Qualcomm customers that are working with Tango-optimized Snapdragon 820 chips, and that the general availability of Tango support in the chip is "coming soon."