Google’s Project Soli is a smartwatch with an inbuilt radar

Google is currently developing and testing a radar sensor that can control smartwatches without touching them, and since you won’t need to touch the screen of the device, more information can be shown on them. Advanced Technologies and Projects (ATAP), the Google division responsible for Project Soli, gave some updates about the project during the Google I/O event. The new chip for Project Soli is much smaller and super efficient, and it is now small enough to be fitted in a smartwatch or any other small device.

The presence of radar hardware in a smartwatch allows the user to interact with the wearable without needing to make contact with its tiny touchscreen. Instead of tapping or swiping right or left on its display, users will be able to navigate the elements of the watch by simply moving your hand closer to the watch. Rubbing your fingers together will let you change the time, move between messages and a lot more. Moving hands closer or away from the smartwatch will change the amount of information that is displayed, when closer more information is display and less when farther. It can even detect distance, expanding UI options as you bring your hand in closer, or respond to small finger motions.

At Google I/O, Google’s ATAP division revealed that they have made tremendous strides in the realm of power efficiency for Project Soli. The team cut down power consumption by a factor of 22, meaning the Soli chip can run on a mere .054 W instead of its previous demand for 1.2 W. In terms of raw computational power, it is fully 256 times as efficient than its predecessor and is still able to accurately interpret hand gestures at a rate of 18,000 frames per second.

Soli tracks and recognizes dynamic gestures expressed by fine motions of the fingers and hand. In order to accomplish this with a single chip sensor, we developed a novel radar sensing paradigm with tailored hardware, software, and algorithms,” Google stated. “Unlike traditional radar sensors, Soli does not require large bandwidth and high spatial resolution. In fact, Soli’s spatial resolution is coarser than the scale of most fine finger gestures.”

Google also noted that even though Project Soli has great implications in the wearables market, the tiny radar sensor can also be used in other objects. The Project Soli team has also worked with JBL and built prototypes of speakers that can be used with simple gestures. The Soli radar allows users to control the speakers from a distance of about 15 meters (49 feet) by moving your hands closer or farther away from the speaker. Invisible virtual knobs can be used to play music, change the track being played and even switch on/off the device.

During Google I/O, the company also gave a demo of Project Soli on a modified LG Urbane smartwatch, showcasing ways to interact with the device by using simple hand gestures to scroll through messages. The technology is still in its development and testing phases and it will be a while before it is ready for the consumers. Currently the company is planning to launch new and improved beta-level developer kits in 2017.

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