Google’s ‘Minority Report’ miniature radar could herald new touchless tech

Judy Cobb
January 3, 2019

Google has won approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to trial its new Project Soli sensors using radar beams at higher power levels than now permissible.

Despite its relative silence over the last two years, Google has been working behind the scenes to get FCC approval in order to test its sensors at higher power levels than what's now allowed.

Project Soli sensors consist of hardware capable of tracking hand gestures or objects in a specific area of space.

The FCC said the decision 'will serve the public interest by providing for innovative device control features using touchless hand gesture technology'.

This tactic offers some advantages over traditional touchscreen controls, because, since you can already tell when your hands or fingers touch something, there's no need to add additional haptic feedback or vibrating motors to reassure folks that the device is working.

Since then, Google has made the tech available to a handful of developers, and demoed a few real-world use cases for the gesture sensors, like the ability to control Bluetooth speakers and smartwatches just by tapping your fingers together.

After discussions, Google and Facebook jointly told the FCC in September that they agreed the sensors could operate at higher than now allowed power levels without interference but at lower levels than previously proposed by Google.

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Also, the Commission said that Soli devices could be operated aboard aircraft as long as they comply with FAA regulation for portable electronic devices.

Google said in documents filed with the FCC that the effort emerged from the work of Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group that focuses on development of mobile technologies. The idea is to enable touchless control of computing devices that could aid users with mobility and speech impairments, Reuters reported.

Google says the virtual tools can approximate the precision of natural human hand motion and the sensor can be embedded in wearables, phones, computers and vehicles.

Google in March asked FCC to grant its waiver, according to the order.

So why have we heard little about Project Soli since that 2015 preview?

In its ruling, the FCC said it determined the Soli sensors "pose minimum potential" of interfering with other devices.

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