FCC Approves Google's 'Soli' Radar-Based Motion Sensor

A hand interacts with a wireless spectrum signal

A hand interacts with a wireless spectrum signal

Announced all the way back at Google I/O 2015, Soli aims to allow users to control smart devices with gestures, just like Tom Cruise's character does in Minority Report.

Google has won approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to trial its new Project Soli sensors using radar beams at higher power levels than now permissible.

A Google spokeswoman did not immediately comment on Tuesday, citing the New Year's Day holiday. The FCC also said the Soli motion sensor can be used on flights.

The sensors would for example, allow a user to press an "invisible" button between their thumb and index finger, or turn a "virtual" dial by rubbing their thumb against a finger.

These movements are then translated into commands that mimic touches on a screen.

The company says that "even though these controls are virtual, the interactions feel physical and responsive" as feedback is generated by the haptic sensation of fingers touching.

The whole Soli chip can be packed in an ultra-compact 8mm x 10mm package, so it can be easily embedded in wearables, phones, computers, cars and IoT devices.

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No one is doubting the usefulness of Project Soli's sensors, but Google has had to wait to deploy the technology at scale because of concerns raised by Facebook Inc. that it could interfere with communications between existing short-range transmitters or receivers embedded in a laptop or other handheld devices.

In a December 31st, 2018 FCC order, the Commission found that Google's Soli sensors would pose "minimal potential of causing harmful interference to other spectrum users and uses of the 57-64 GHz frequency band".

Google, Facebook, and the FCC agreed during the same month on sensors that would operate at higher power levels than what's now allowed, but lower than what Google wanted.

The proposed power levels was lower than previously proposed by Google. The social network told the FCC in September that it expects a "variety of use cases to develop with respect to new radar devices, including Soli".

The Soli devices can be operated aboard aircraft but must still comply with Federal Aviation Administration rules governing portable electronic devices.

The device is meant to recognise hand gestures which can then be used to issue commands.

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