FCC [Finally] Approves Google’s Radar-Based Motion Sensor Development Project

This week Google won new approval from US regulators for their plans to build a smartwatch that you can control with hand gestures.   Google calls this plan “Project Soli.”

Google began working on Project Soli in 2015 but had to stop because not too long after they started they found the watch would have to operate at lower power levels than they had originally planned.  They had to stop because there are certain restrictions in place, restrictions that are a necessary means to stop new products from interfering with other technologies that are more important.  In this case, that would be radio astronomy and satellite services.  

As such, Google had to stop engineering the watch until they could get clearance to work at these power levels.  Fortunately for them, the US Federal Communications Commission granted the technology giant a waiver which allows it to operate Soli sensors at higher power levels—between 57 and 64 gigahertz—which, as the FCC says, will best “serve the public interest.”

It is important for Google to get this clearance because these sensors use radar to capture motion in a three-dimensional space. That means these sensors can essentially turn a virtual dial or press virtual buttons to capture data in this three-dimensional space.  More importantly, this radar can penetrate fabrics, which means it could even work in device while it is in your pocket or a purse or a backpack. 

And Google’s development of these sensors is important because their versatile use could provide touchless controls for users who have mobility or speech impairment issues.  Of course, while Google claims these are the most immediate benefits, we can certainly discern more novel use for the technology that will attract a much wider—and far more profitable—audience down the road as well. For example, the FCC said they will also allow Soli sensors to be carried on aircraft. 

Indeed, FCC Chief of Engineering and Technology Julius Knapp said, in the allowance order, “Grant of the waiver will serve the public interest by providing for innovative device control features using touchless hand gesture technology.”

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