What is Google’s Project Soli and Could it Come to Google Home 2 in the Future?
How does Soli work | Will Soli work with Google Home 2 | Potential Applications of Soli | Touchless interactions | and More...
Published: 16th Aug 2019
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Just when you thought you had seen it all, it’s time to wave hello to the next technology movement, literally. Soli, Google’s new technology, will let you operate the soon-to-launch Pixel 4 using air-swipes and waves.
The rumour about the inclusion of Soli chips in the new Pixel smartphone surfaced months back. Then in June, Google confirmed both the forthcoming release of the phone and the new technology. On June 29th, they released an official teaser video and blog post showcasing a glimpse of the intriguing potential of Soli.
Entitled “Don’t hold the phone,” the blog post detailed the key features of the phone with a focus on face unlock and Soli. Soli brings on a whole new range of capabilities to the smartphone and seems set to take us to the next level, technologically speaking.
What is Project Soli?
Project Soli is a new sensing technology that makes use of miniature radar to detect gesture interactions, eliminating the need for touch. The radar-based interaction sensor makes use of motion-tracking to interpret the gestures of the human hand and inform action.
The idea behind the project is to create a ubiquitous gesture interaction language to let people control their devices with a universal set of simple gestures. It has its foundation in the concept of Virtual Tools, which refer to gestures that mimic the usual interactions we have with the tools we use. Using this metaphor makes it easy to learn Soli interactions, communicate with devices and remember the gestures.
To illustrate, picture a button placed between your thumb and index finger. If you want to press it, you need to tap the two fingers together. Similarly, if you had an invisible dial on hand, you would need to rub the thumb against the index finger so as to turn it.
That is basically what project Soli is trying to accomplish, making the usual hand gestures but without physical contact. Since the gestures are based on real-life concepts, the interactions feel every bit as physical and responsive as what we are accustomed to. The key difference is that the controls are virtual.
Since you get actual physical feedback from the sensation of fingers in contact with each other, the gestures circumvent the constraints of physical controls, like the space on a touchscreen or sensitivity of a button control.
How Does Soli Work?
For the concept to work, it requires what is referred to as the Soli sensor. This is a fully integrated radar, using low power to operate in the 60-GHz ISM band. Though it started out as a large bench-top unit, the team has gradually redesigned it into a small solid-state chip.
That makes it easy to integrate the component into mobile consumer devices and also facilitates large scale production. Its design is simple and it consumes limited energy.
Potential Applications of Soli
The practical use of Soli is not limited to use in Google’s Pixel 4. It can work in a vast array of environments. It can function in wearable devices, computers, automobiles and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Could Soli Come to Google Home 2 in Future?
Besides making the smartphone a lot smarter than it already is, Soli could open up a whole new world of possibilities for the smart home enthusiast through the long-awaited Google Home 2. According to a Nikkei report published earlier this year, Google is set to launch “an updated version” of the Google Home.
After all, it’s about time for a change. Amazon, which is Google’s main competitor on the smart home front, launched the second version of the Echo quite a while back. Considering the number of years that have passed since the 2016 launch of Google Home, the current model is way overdue for a replacement.
The replacement, dubbed Google Home 2, could use lots of improvements and additions to keep pace with technological changes. For instance, better speakers, more microphones and a few other hardware and software tweaks would make it a whole lot more competitive.
But adding Soli to the mix would spark a revolution on the smart home front. It might actually present a more practical use-case than air-control on a smartphone. More on this at 9to5google.
Among the complaints some Google Home users have voiced is that the touch control panel at the top is somewhat annoying. In their opinion, the speaker would do much better with physical buttons instead.
What if you could do away with both the touch interface and the proposed buttons, opting instead for air-control? That way, even when Google Assistant is on mute, you can still operate the controls even with food on your hands.
Waving Goodbye to ‘Hey, Google’
Another common complaint has to do with the Google Home wake phrase, “Hey, Google” or “Okay, Google.” Imagine getting the opportunity to replace the lengthy and unnatural wake phrase with a simple wave of your hand or a tap of your fingers.
Better Proximity Detection
Soli could address yet another pain-point that Google Home users often cite. Though Google Assistant is very good at hearing and understanding commands, she has challenges when there is background noise. Having to repeat a command again and again, only to have her misunderstand can be a tad annoying.
Other users complain about its poor voice proximity detection, where you give a command to one speaker only to have a totally different one respond. Incorporating the Soli chip on Home speakers could address both complaints.
It is capable of sensing proximity using radar, and you don’t have to keep shouting above background noise while you can give an air-wave command.
The Bottom Line
Bolstering the already great feature of voice control with hand gestures would be an obvious win for the device. The possibilities are virtually endless for the combination of Google Home 2 and Soli.