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Google’s AR platform Tango is going to let museum visitors explore exhibits

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Starting with the Detroit Institute of Arts, but Google promises more partnerships are on the way

In a bid to breathe a little life into its promising augmented reality platform, Tango, Google is partnering with a number of museums around the world. Starting with the Detroit Institute of Arts (before moving on to other, as-yet-unnamed institutions), Google is offering visitors Tango-enabled devices that can be used to explore exhibits in augmented reality.

At the DIA, visitors can request a Lenovo Phab 2 Pro (the first Tango-enabled smartphone) from the front desk, and use it to find out more about various artifacts. The handset can peer inside sarcophagi to reveal mummified bodies, visualize lost architecture like the six-story Babylonian Ishtar Gate, and restore ancient limestone reliefs to their original, bright coloring. As well as visualizations, the app (made by GuidiGo, which previously designed AR museum guides for Google Glass) will also offer quizzes and games.

Tango can be used to discover the long-faded paint applied to Limestone reliefs.
Or visualize missing architecture — like the Ishtar Gate.

It’s a use-case that certainly plays to Tango’s strengths. The platform offers a more immersive take on the AR-through-a-phone-screen experience we’ve become familiar with thanks to apps like Pokémon Go. Advanced sensors not usually seen in a phone are used to map depth and scale, which allows digital overlays to be applied more accurately to 3D surfaces.

The results can be engaging (perfect for museums), but the overall experience is still hit-and-miss. In our review of the Phab 2’s AR abilities we thought it was “at least one step beyond a gimmick,” but not much more than that. It doesn’t help that only two consumer handsets support Tango at this point: the Phab 2 Pro, and the Asus ZenFone AR, announced at CES last week. As with this latest museum initiative (which, again, only includes a single institution at this point), it seems Google needs to dedicate more resources to Tango if it truly wants its take on AR to take off.