FCC seeks comment on Google’s hand-motion sensor waiver request

Project Soli
Google said the requested higher signal powers will allow Project Soli sensors to recognize gestures when a user’s hand is farther from a device. (Google)

The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) is asking for public comment on Google’s request for a waiver related to the sensing technology it has developed as part of Project Soli.

Last week, Google filed a waiver request for the marketing and certification of interactive motion-sensing technology that can be used to enable touchless control of device functions and features. The sensing technology operates in the 57-64 GHz frequency band.

The commission allows operation of “mobile radars in short-range devices for interactive motion sensing” within the 60 GHz band, but only at power levels that Google said are too restrictive for optimum use of the sensors. Google wants to operate consistent with the power levels allowed in draft European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards, which are higher than those permitted by the FCC’s rules.  

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Google says that the requested higher signal powers will allow its Project Soli sensors to recognize gestures when a user’s hand is farther from a device, explaining that the higher power would make the feature more convenient, intuitive and useful for consumers. Google’s devices could be particularly meaningful for users with mobility, speech or tactile impairments.

In its waiver request (PDF), Google explained that Project Soli emerged from the work of its Advanced Technology and Projects group. Using a sensor that operates between 57 and 64 GHz, Project Soli devices capture motion in a three-dimensional space using a radar beam. Data collected by the Soli sensor can then be used to enable touchless control of device functions or features. For instance, sensor data allows devices to be more "aware" of their surroundings to allow them to enter sleep mode due to inactivity, or to allow users to trigger simple actions without having to touch the device.

With higher signal powers, the radar signal could also penetrate fabrics, enabling controls that could work in a pocket or a backpack, and there would be more flexibility to integrate the Project Soli sensors in devices that partially occlude the antennas due to mechanical constraints, according to Google.

Existing permitted users of the 60 GHz band include WiGig systems, a small number of federal mobile, fixed, intersatellite and radiolocation services and nonfederal fixed, mobile and radiolocation services users, as well as industrial, scientific and medical equipment.

The OET said it has concluded that, in order to develop a complete record on the issues presented by Google’s request, the proceeding will be treated, for ex parte purposes, as “permit-but-disclose” in accordance with commission rules. The public comment period lasts until April 23.