Google's new 3D sensing phone: lets imagine its uses.
Well, Google just keeps knocking it out of the park. They've just announced Project Tango, an Android phone with a normal camera, 2 dedicated computer vision processors, integrated depth sensor and a motion tracking camera (http://www.engadget.com/2014/02/20/google-project-tango-smartphone-sensors/).
What this can do is make a 3D map of your surroundings as you move around with your phone. More than that, the phone can actually understand that 3D environment. All this with software that is supposedly not a humongous battery draw.
Certainly, it'll at least be a year till commercial phones have these built in. There's more miniaturization to do, at the very least. But for a prototype, this is a remarkably svelte device for what it does. So let's think of uses:
1) The obvious one: navigation for the blind. This can be the single greatest ability of this technology, and if they every get it small enough to fit into Glass, that device becomes a no-brainer as a navigation aid for the blind. Even a phone, or something built into a cane, say, is very possible right now, and it would beyond doubt make life considerably easier for those who can't see.
2) VR gaming: Their promo video already showcases excellent game ideas with just a phone. Imagine being able to enterany room, map it in a few seconds, then have that map be the layer on which a game occurs. Suddenly, your phone games can engage your surroundings in a way not even consoles can achieve right now. Imagine Ingress in a phone with these abilities.
But there's more. Occulus Rift is going to build Android compatibility. Imagine your headset being able to project a 3-D environment that matches your surrounding, but with add ons to make it seem like a different world! Kind of like Illumi-room, but in your VR headset. Now imagine physical games where you can use those surroundings and move around. Suddenly, you aren't just sitting around while playing. Your coffee table can be a bush behind which you hide as you snipe at your enemies...
3) Shopping: Undoubtedly, stores will want to map out their space, and the location of their wares, then send that to your phones when you enter. The processor in your phone can now guide you around the showroom, but instead of just showing you a map, you have a 3-D map that can guide you to the blue Levis you want, or the specific brand of toilet paper. No more scanning shelves endlessly before giving up and buying what is easy to reach.
The same thing can be used in libraries. Essentially, you can make a map of things not just places.
4) General mapping: Without doubt, users can be encouraged to upload their own maps of streets and indoor locations to Google maps. Suddenly, iBeacons look like yesterday's tech.
5) Disaster relief: If you're in any kind of disaster situation, this kind of mapping data can be priceless. Especially in fires or earthquakes, where the 3-D surroundings are changing quickly. Imagine a person trapped in a collapsed building being able to send a distress call through their phone (provided it survives, of course) that also includes a real time update of the 3-D environment. For firefighters and rescue workers, this can be a great boon, and can help save a lot of lives.
6) Robotics: Without doubt, such a small module's ability to map the 3-D environment will be a huge boon for all kinds of robots, including Driverless cars. In fact, some of this tech must have come from or inspired by the driverless car group.
I'm sure there's more I can't think of right now. But what a leap for technology!