Google I/O developers conference 2017

Google previews new AR and VR technology

Image credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam

The tech giant unveiled a range of new technologies at its I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, including an augmented reality (AR) tool which provides information about objects when viewed through a camera, and a standalone virtual reality (VR) headset.

Opening the conference, Google CEO Sundar Pichai reported that there are 2 billion active Android users, 800 million Google Drive users and 500 million Google Photos users.

“In an AI-first world, we are rethinking all our products and applying machine learning and AI to solve user problems,” said Pichai. His keynote speech – which described the importance of using machine learning to improve the capability of our gadgets to process non-text-based information – set the tone for the remainder of the conference.

“Thanks to advances in deep learning, we’re able to make images, photos and videos useful for finding things. Speech and vision are becoming as important to computing as the keyboard.”

Pichai began by presenting Google Lens, which adds context to objects and places seen through a camera, using image recognition and location to provide supplementary information. This could include offering reviews for a restaurant, or naming a species of flower. It could also be used with Google Assistant to translate printed text, such as in a menu.

The Google Photos app will have new features, such as using facial recognition to suggest which photos should be shared with your contacts, more editing abilities (such as removing obstructions from a picture) and compiling printed photo albums which can be sent to your door.

Clay Bavor, head of VR at Google, previewed a standalone VR headset, which does not require a phone, computer or cables. “The whole device is designed just for VR,” he said. Google is collaborating with HTC, Qualcomm and Lenovo on the product. The company also announced that Samsung and LG would add capabilities to their newest smartphone models such that they will be compatible with Daydream, Google’s smartphone VR headset.

Google Home will be compatible with Spotify and other streaming services, and will begin prompting users to take actions – such as leaving home early – based on live data about the traffic, weather, flights and other things.

The company announced some of the details of its next operating system, Android O, including enhanced security, longer battery life, more control over notifications and data usage, and the ability to copy and paste across devices. Android O (likely to be named ‘Oreo’) has no official launch date.

Google representatives also presented Android Go, a stripped-down version of its mobile operating system for cheap phones with less than 1GB of memory, which is intended for users in developing countries.

Among other new tools, features and hardware, Google revealed that Gmail will begin suggesting ‘smart replies to emails, that Google Assistant will interact in new languages including German and Korean, and a new form of AR called Virtual Positioning Service (VPS) which is intended to help users navigate indoors, much as GPS helps navigate outdoors.

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