The phrase “disruptive technology” has been popular in the last few years as more and more technological gizmos come to market.
Usually it refers to a technology that arrives at precisely the right moment to overwhelm its predecessor.
Smartphones were and are disruptive technology. We'd had mobile devices for a while, but when Apple released its first iPhone with its array of sensors in 2007, the game changed. Suddenly everyone was playing catch-up. That's disruptive technology.
Now your smartphone is about to get smarter, thanks to Google and its development of Tango.
The Tango development kit being sold by Google is equipped with technology that allows it to understand space and motion.
That means a mobile device running Tango can not only map indoor spaces in three dimensions — figuring out where floors, walls, ceilings and furniture are — but it will also know the location of the device within that space and its orientation.
The sensors that make your smartphone smart can probably figure out orientation based on movement, but these are subject to "drift." Tango remedies that by taking a quarter of a million readings a second. And it does that in real time while you're walking through a building or a construction site.
At the moment, there is only one smartphone that has Tango built in. It's the Lenovo PHAB2 Pro, released early last month.
It's a nifty gadget, but likely of no particular interest to the construction community. That comes later, after developers who have bought the development kit from Google turn their imaginations loose while building apps to install on the phone.
Imagine being able to walk to the centre of a room, hold up your smartphone, then turn around. Tango will present a three-dimensional map of the room. Pair that technology with the augmented reality app called Through the Wall and the user would be able to hold up his or her device and be able to see where pipes, electrical wires and ducts are positioned.
Wouldn't that be handy if you were doing renovation work?
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the use of digital models in construction and it has quickly become a major trend in the industry. Tango and BIM would seem to be a good fit.
Of course, there's lots of construction-related software on the market, much of it underused.
Tango could be ideal for punch-lists, although it's capable of much more. But there are already punch-list apps out there, with names like Bluebeam Revu, Finishline Pro and a Canadian entry, Kitchener-based Closeout, from Bridgit.
But none of them appear to have an overwhelming lead in market share. They have a core of faithful users, but that's likely the best that can be said.
If Tango takes off, if developers come up with a variety of apps that allow Tango to do many different things, then Google can say it's got a "disruptive technology" on its hands.
Google has sold thousands of its developer kits, which indicates developers are interested, although not all are interested in catering to the construction industry. But Qualcomm and Intel have both announced they're developing Tango reference devices as models for manufacturers who use their mobile chipsets.
Those two giants in the world of computer chips didn't achieve their market positions by being timid. That both of them have elected to develop Tango-compatible chipsets tells us that they're betting on it.
There are those in the construction industry who would prefer to ignore all this, just as they have ignored other technologies in the past. But in a year, maybe two, developers will have found so many uses for Tango that it becomes impossible to ignore.
Now that's disruptive.
You can find out more about Tango at get.google.com/tango.
Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.