Google’s quietly making a ton of progress on one of its coolest technologies to date, which will change how we interact with our devices. The technology is called Soli, and it’s basically a tiny radar that can detect small hand gestures for controlling smart clothing, smartwatches, and other devices.
Soli is built by Google’s ATAP division, which is responsible for bringing some of its more out-there technology to the real world. Soli was first shown off at Google I/O last year, and since then, Google has worked with around 60 developers, shipping them dev kits to build object recognition, wearables, and so on. Perhaps the most interesting, however, was the creation of a smartwatch and speaker with Soli built-in.
Of course, the chip shown off last year wouldn’t have fit inside a normal smartwatch, so the team redesigned it. Like really redesigned it. The new chip reduces power consumption by a hefty 22 times, now sitting at 0.054 W. Radar also takes a lot of computer power — the new version, however, still runs 18,000 frames per second, and is a whopping 256 times more efficient.
So what does that mean for the smartwatch? You can control it without even touching it. It uses radar to track gesture controls. For example, in the demo of a watch that was built in partnership with LG, we saw that if you move your hand closer and further away from the device, it can scroll through messages. With a little flick of your fingers, you can select a message to read in full. According to the team, the sensor can detect movement up to an impressive 15 meters away.
If that seems like quite a generous distance for smartwatch use, the sensor can of course be utilized in other devices. Case in point, another interesting demo showed Soli being used as a speaker, built by Harman’s JBL, which was shown cycling through tracks as the user gestured from across the stage.
Unfortunately it’s not yet known when we’ll see Soli products for consumers, however ATAP will be sending out a new developer kit next year. In the meantime check out the video below to see some of the other things Soli can do.