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What happens when your smartphone gets as smart as you? 

Google taps U talent

U of M students are helping Google to create the technology for the smartphones of the future.

August 11, 2014

More than 150 University of Minnesota graduates are working at Google, and that number is growing, as the U continues to be a talent pipeline for a company that has been on the cutting edge of innovation for more than a decade.

It’s a pipeline fed by bright minds, such as those of post-doc Luis Carrillo-Arce, Ph.D. students Ryan DuToit and Dimitris Kottas, and by professor Stergios Roumeliotis.

Months ago, Google publicly announced a big project—one with implications not yet fully realized, or even imagined. It’s a 3D smartphone effort dubbed Project Tango, and before you think that just means 3D video on a phone, its not that simple.

This is the kind of phone that sees the world as you do—a smartphone with a serious IQ. It is based on theory and technology that Roumeliotis began working on in the 90s, when he himself was in graduate school. Back then, Roumeliotis worked with NASA to create a technology that allowed spacecraft to land on Mars.

Shrink that same technology down, make it affordable, put it in a smartphone, and the phone, without GPS, under it’s own control, can locate itself in space and in relation to other objects—it needs no satellite, no Internet, and no human assistance.

So what does that really mean for the future of not just smartphones, but the people who carry them—the world we all navigate every day?

Does it mean that the phone could someday pilot a rescue aircraft into dangerous situations? That it could drive your car and parallel park far better than you? That it might act as a guide for the visually impaired, or create hyper-realistic gaming worlds where your surroundings become the playing field?

Graduate researcher Ryan DuToit says that right now, it’s a landscape of possibility.

“When the Internet was created, and when email was created, no one could think of Twitter and Facebook, as they are used now,” he says.

So where is the future?

Google has asked a limited group of application developers to begin creating smartphone apps to utilize the technology.

“Google is not in the business of building apps. Google is in the business of solving the difficult problems that applications are built on,” says Roumeliotis. And for that, they’ve tapped brilliant young minds at the University of Minnesota.

The future is here.

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