Google Teases Motion Sensing

Soli technology brings advanced motion-sensing radar to Pixel phones

This October, when Google launches its next iteration of Pixel smartphones, the company will be hoping that its hardware stands out with a touch of its latest technology.

The Pixel 4 series will include a gesture input technique that Google calls Motion Sense, developed as part of the company’s focus on ambient computing. The feature lets users interact with a smartphone using motions rather than touch or voice.

Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects team has been working on this technology, called Project Soli, for over five years. It aims to deploy a motion-sensing radar in smartphones to recognize gestures and spot when the user is nearby. It’s the same radar technology that has been used for decades to detect planes and other large objects. The team has developed a miniature version that senses small motions around the phone, and combines unique software with advanced sensor hardware.

This technology means that users will be able to interact with the phone without touching it, by performing hand gestures like waving their hands to skip songs, snooze an alarm or silence an incoming phone call. This type of gesture input on smartphones isn’t new; Samsung has been experimenting with it for years, but Google claims that it’s going beyond anything that’s been done before.

Another intriguing application of Project Soli is that it will mix the technology with facial recognition software — another new addition to Pixel phones — to make the process of unlocking a device more seamless. As with gestures, this technology has also been around for several years; Apple has been a leader in this area with its TrueDepth front-facing camera and Face ID technology, but Google claims it has gone a step further. It says Soli will come into play when using the Pixel 4’s face unlock feature. The technology will automatically detect when the user moves the phone closer to their face, unlocking the device “in one motion”. Again, Google promises that it’s taking an existing input method to the next level by not requiring an awkward look into a smartphone’s front-facing camera.

Clearly, it’s hard to assess how effective these steps will be without trying the technology, but Google’s announcement showed impressive ambition, further underlining the company’s commitment to the Pixel family of smartphones.

In terms of security, Google will implement its Titan M security chip in the Pixel 4 series, which is also used in the Pixel 3 phones launched in October 2018. Google will use the chip to store biometric information on the device, meaning that the data doesn’t leave the phone. Similarly, data from the Soli sensor will also be processed locally and never saved or shared with other Google services.

Google is leaning on its skills in software and artificial intelligence to compete in the smartphone market, as it has done with past hardware iterations. After almost three years of being in the Pixel business, Google has certainly learned that, even with its impressive brand, it’s not easy taking on existing players. Although the company dominates several markets, the hardware side of the handset business isn’t one of them. However, Google has been inching forward and is proving that it intends to stick around. Motion Sense is another touch of Google magic that it hopes the market will embrace.