Researchers explore tangible applications for Google's Project Soli radar

Project Soli
Soli tracks and recognizes dynamic gestures expressed by fine motions of the fingers and hand. (Google)

Google’s Project Soli got the green light to operate at higher power levels thanks to a Dec. 31 FCC order, but researchers in Scotland have already been experimenting with the technology and working to improve object-sensing accuracy.

In a paper published last month and unearthed last week by The Verge, the University of St Andrews researchers describe how they used radar sensing and machine learning for exploring tangible interactions that they term “Solinteraction.” They proposed using radar as a sensing platform for tracking the identity of an object or number of proximate objects to enable a tangible user interface.

Google provided access to an alpha developer kit and an SDK that the team used along with their RadarCat system. Soli is a monostatic multichannel radar device operating in the 57-64 gigahertz range using frequency modulated continuous wave, where the radar transmits and receives continuously. Soli is designed for capturing micro finger motion for enabling interaction with computers, but RadarCat exploited it for object and material recognition.

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In a video posted to YouTube, the researchers show how their work can be applied to count sheets of paper, playing cards, poker chips and Lego blocks stacked on top of a sensor.

Such a system has applications for gaming and entertainment. For example, in a poker game, it could be used to recognize the player’s turn or automatically update the game without player or dealer intervention, according to the research paper. There also may be educational applications to make learning more fun for children, as well as applications for the smart home or office, retail/dining and wearables.

Google developed the Soli sensor to capture motion in a 3D space using a radar beam to enable touchless control of device functions or features, which can benefit users with mobility, speech and tactile impairments, according to the FCC documents.

In its original request, Google sought a waiver of the FCC’s rules to allow Soli radar to operate in the 57-64 GHz band at power levels consistent with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards, which are higher than those permitted under FCC rules. Google argued that the power levels in the commission’s existing rules were too restrictive to adequately enable Soli’s intended functions.

The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology in March issued a Public Notice asking for comments on the waiver request. Commenters’ concerns generally fell along two broad categories: the sensor’s potential to affect passive service operations when operating on aircraft and its ability to coexist with other unlicensed devices operating in the band.

However, the FCC ultimately determined that any coexistence and interference concerns were adequately addressed with Google’s updated operational parameters and supporting studies.

RELATED: Google continues working with ‘interested parties’ on its Project Soli waiver request, including Facebook

Although Facebook had raised concerns (PDF) about potential interference by Soli in the 60 GHz band, it ended up discussing those concerns with Google and they jointly proposed operating parameters for Project Soli radars that the commission accepted.

Qualcomm also signed onto the current plan, explaining (PDF) that Google and Qualcomm had agreed to work together to resolve any technical concerns with coexistence of Soli radar and 802.11 devices operating in the 57-64 GHz portion of the 60 GHz unlicensed band.   

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