Joe Pinkstone | The Daily Mail | Source URL
A Google project that will allow users to control their devices using their fingers in thin air is one step closer to reality after receiving approval from US authorities.
Called Project Soli, the system identifies subtle finger movements using radar built into tiny microchips.
Google says it allows users to press an invisible button between the thumb and index fingers or operate a virtual dial that turns by rubbing a thumb against the index finger.
Camera-based sensors are already available, such as Leap Motion, that can capture gestures, but these are cumbersome and require additional hardware.
Now Soli has received permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow the technology to work at higher power levels.
The FCC said the decision 'will serve the public interest by providing for innovative device control features using touchless hand gesture technology.'
A Google spokeswoman did not immediately comment on Tuesday, citing the New Year's Day holiday.
The FCC said the Soli sensor captures motion in a three-dimensional space using a radar beam to enable touchless control of functions or features that can benefit users with mobility or speech impairments.
Google 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.
Google says the sensor can be embedded in wearables, phones, computers and vehicles.
In March, Google asked the FCC to allow its short-range interactive motion sensing Soli radar to operate in the 57- to 64-GHz frequency band at power levels consistent with European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards.
Facebook raised concerns with the FCC that the Soli sensors operating in the spectrum band at higher power levels might have issues coexisting with other technologies.
Google and Facebook jointly told the FCC in September that they agreed the sensors could operate at higher than currently allowed power levels without interference.
The proposed power levels was lower than previously proposed by Google.
Facebook told the FCC in September that it expected 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.
And leading researcher Ivan Poupyrev told MailOnline back in 2015 his team's breakthrough will be a complete 'game changer.'
He said: 'Using a tiny, microchip-based radar to track hand movements we can now track the minutest movements and twitches of the human hand to interact with computers and wearable devices.
'The whole world is becoming a gadget that we interact with, with software everywhere, which raises the question how can we react with the entire world?'
HOW DOES PROJECT SOLI WORK?
Project Soli uses invisible radar emanating from a microchip to recognise finger movements.
In particular, it uses broad beam radar to recognise movement, velocity and distance.
It works using the 60Ghz radar spectrum at up to 10,000 frames per seconds.
These movements are then translated into commands that mimic touches on a screen.
The chips, developed with German manufacturer Infineon, are small enough to be embedded into wearables and other devices.
The biggest challenge was said to be to have been to shrink a shoebox-sized radar - typically used by police in speed traps - into something tiny enough to fit on a microchip.
Inspired by advances in communications being readied for next-generation Wi-Fi called Wi-Gig, leading researcher Ivan Poupyrev's team shrank the components of a radar down to millimetres in just 10 months.