Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is developing a new smartphone outfitted with sensors and chips that will allow it to scan its environment, record spatial data, and create a 3D model of its surroundings, opening up new possibilities for app development, report Don Clark and Rolfe Winkler for The Wall Street Journal.

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Google Maps is already pretty good at giving long-distance directions using a combination of GPS and extensive roadmaps, but once you go inside, the GPS data isn’t that useful and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) doesn’t know how your furniture is arranged. The new Project Tango would change that by recording 3D models of your environment so that apps can become even more personalized.

“Our goal is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion,” said team leader Johnny Lee.

Google’s Project Tango makes new types of apps possible

Lee had a couple of suggestions for how the spatial data could be useful, including augmented reality games that can be customized to your environment and telling a blind person how to navigate a place they’ve never been before. Asking anyone to follow step-by-step verbal instructions sounds unlikely (and maybe a little patronizing), but Lee’s other suggestion sounds spot on: measuring the dimensions of your house before shopping for new furniture. Just by carrying the specially outfitted phone around the room and then later letting it scan furniture you like, you’d be able to see if it fits in your house. In the long-term, ads on where to find a better price don’t seem out of the question.

Prototypes will be sent as part of a development kit to select IT firms to give them a head start on developing apps that use the new smartphone model, and to act as a beta test to work out any bugs.

Project Tango’s privacy implications

Storing such detailed information on everything you see is bound to raise privacy concerns, and considering Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s usual stance that it wants to record all the world’s information, it doesn’t seem realistic to expect the search giant not to use that data itself. Etiquette questions already surround Google Glass because other people don’t have an easy way to know if you’re recording them while wearing the device, but Project Tango is different because the data is easier to digest. Instead of video files, which are challenging to analyze en masse, a database of spatial data is exactly the kind of thing a Big Data expert would love to work on. But if the apps are useful enough, that’s a trade consumers may be happy to make.