Google just got one step closer to the possibility of controlling a smart device through hand gestures from afar. It won federal approval to continue its tiny radar project from 2015, “Project Soli,” at higher power levels for better accuracy.
Google has been working on this in its experimental division for years. Instead of tapping directly on a screen, the project proposed using gestures like rubbing your thumb and index finger together to control a smartwatch or smart speaker.
With this technology, you could potentially turn on a JBL smart speaker by moving a hand closer to it or turn music on or off with a flick of your fingers. The tiny radar sensors inside the speaker would sense your hand motions.
After its initial debut as a prototype, Project Soli hit a road bump because the radar wasn’t accurately noticing user gestures, and it had trouble picking up every motion. This meant that users could only attempt a limited number of gestures that a smartwatch could pick up. Google attributed these problems to the low power levels the smartwatch had to operate on due to the Federal Communication Commission’s restrictions.
In March, Google applied for a waiver from the FCC to operate at higher power levels. Initially, Facebook protested that giving Google higher radar levels could mess with existing technology, but after the two companies held discussions, they reached a compromise. Google agreed to lower power levels than what it had first proposed, and in exchange, Facebook backed down from opposing the waiver, according to Reuters.
On December 31st, the FCC granted the waiver after determining that Project Soli could serve the public interest and had little potential for causing harm. The approval means that Soli can move forward, bringing us closer to a future with interactive touchless smart speakers and displays. The technology could potentially add more functionality to smartwatches, which have tiny displays that can be awkward to use. It could also help users who have slight mobility or tactile impairments.
We’ve reached out to Google to ask what the new federal approval means for Project Soli going forward and what kinds of products we can expect out of it.