Why Google relies on gestural interfaces for future products

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With the “Motion Gestures” of Pixel 4, Google promised mountains and wonders. The company has miniaturized in a phone a radar capable of detecting the presence of a human and recognize certain gestures, which is a small technological feat. You may know later, the gestures of Pixel 4 have not really convinced us, especially because they are still incredibly limited. You can go from one song to another, stop a timer and … that’s about it.

On the road in Paris, Brandon Barbello, Soli Product Manager for Pixel, Research and Machine Intelligence from Google, gave an interview to 01net. According to him, the gestural interfaces are likely to prevail in the future.

Pixel 4 is only a “founding step”

In 2014, Google had the idea to develop a gestural sensor. At the time for Motorola, this project name is “Soli” had no clear purpose. The company’s engineers simply had the idea of emitting waves into the air and using a receiver to observe their disturbances. They taught Soli (they still call him that today) how to recognize the presence of a human being and, more specifically, the fingers of his hand. This radar can therefore know when you pass your whole hand in front of it, point at something or pinch two fingers (to zoom in for example). Over the years, the sensor necessary for this technology has been made so small that it can be put it into the top edge of a smartphone. This is how it was integrate this technology into Pixel 4.

“This is the first version. Pixel 4 is only a founding step,”

Says Brandon Barbello when we explain to him that he was disappointed by Soli. “We needed to launch it into the real world. Now Soli is a commercial project. People are currently trying to use it,” he explains to justify the beginning of the project, which is still incomplete. The Soli product manager also promised that updates to Pixel 4 would come and expand the capabilities of his radar. If he refuses to give us a date, he still tells us that these new functions will not wait for the pixel. “A pixel always improves over the months.”

Connected home, watches, and headphones … Google has big ambitions

Throughout our interview with Brandon Barbello, we wondered why Google launched Soli with Pixel 4. The project told by the product manager has so many other utilities that we do not understand his interest in a smartphone, which has already a touch screen. Google justifies itself by explaining that mobile being the most popular device today, it is the best platform to familiarize users. It seems obvious that Google would have preferred to launch Soli elsewhere … but did not really have other choices.

In the future, the Soli radar could, therefore, appear in many other Google products. Brandon Barbello gives the example of connected watches (that’s good, Google has just bought Fitbit) where you could use your hand to scroll through a list and rotate two fingers to control the volume. On a small screen, the interest seems much bigger. The field of video games is also mentioned (that’s good Google will launch Stadia in a few days). “We have some ideas for creating fun rather than practical experiences, but that’s not the priority.” Controlling your TV remotely is also one of the options imagined by Google, just like the control of the volume of wireless headphones.

The real hunting ground of Soli is undoubtedly the connected home. There is a simple reason for that: respect for privacy. Putting a camera in a connected speaker arouses the indignation of users, worried about being monitored. With Soli, this problem no longer exists. Able to detect motion through plastic or glass, Google’s radar is completely invisible. “Soli can see 5 or 10 meters away if you stick a device connected to your wall. We can do a lot of things. “. From there to imagine a future Google Home speaker that will light a light if you point the finger, there is only one step.

Among the other ideas considered as “Non-priority” by Google, note the replacement of the physical buttons of our smartphones by gestures on the edges or back of the device. Everything is possible.

What are the next steps?

Thus, contrary to what his launch with Pixel 4 might have suggested, Soli is still in the project stage. In the coming months, Google could open its radar to developers and allow them to use its sensor to design new experiences. There is no SDK today, which supports our view that Pixel 4 Motion Gestures are useless. Finally, Brandon Barbello explains to us to consider opening Soli to third-party builders in the future. His ultimate dream is to imagine a world where people will come to a glass table and wonder “Is this a Soli product? “