The Pixel 4’s radar technology is about to go mainstream

The Pixel 4’s Soli radar technology has returned in the form of an open-source API. Photo: Sam Rutherford / Gizmodo

Google just quietly unveiled an open-source API standard called Ripple based on the company’s Soli radar technology. Radar was partly responsible for the Google Pixel 4’s most gimmicky features, but it’s also how Google tracks sleep in the latest Nest Hub, and it opens the door to really interesting usage scenarios.

The API is for devices with frequency modulated continuous wave (or FMWC) sensors, which are also used in gadgets such as the sleep tracking smart bulbs Sengled announced that at CES.

Google’s ATAP division, which also worked on Soli, is behind this launch. Automaker Ford and Blumio, a blood pressure monitor company, are the first consumer brands to get on board with Ripple. Ford told The Verge it plans to test the use of Ripple as “advanced outdoor radars” for its Co-Pilot360 driver assistance technology. Component makers such as Texas Instruments, Infineon, and NXP have also signed up to help develop for it.

Oddly enough, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the industry association behind CES, is pushing to get companies on board. The CTA provides a wealth of documentation to get you started with Ripple, meaning industry wide adoption.

Opening up Ripple to other developers is exciting because it is a relatively non-invasive technology that can be used in interesting ways. However, it took Google a while to figure that out. When Google the . launched Pixel 4 with Soli radar baked into it, it flopped because it wasn’t the right location for the technology. All the radar in the Pixel did was allow you to shuffle through music hands-free and quickly unlock the device. It didn’t change at all.

Soli made more sense in the second generation Nest Hub, where Google uses it to enable sleep tracking from a non-portable device. The radar can detect how deeply you sleep and even help determine if you snore. It can also be used to see how people move around a room or how many people are in a building.

The other big draw of Ripple is that its radar-tracking technology doesn’t rely on a microphone or camera to detect motion, so it’s an easier sell for companies looking to make products that are more privacy-focused. Ivan Poupyrev, technical director of Google ATAP, billed it as a technology that can help resolve “critical use cases in a privacy-respecting manner.”

Amazon has also adopted radar based tracking, and even got the go-ahead from the FCC to make its own bedside device. It’s unclear whether companies will use radar to better serve you with advertising, but anything is possible.

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