Google has been making small radar chips public since 2015. They can tell you how well you sleep, control your smartwatch, fold a sheet of paper, and play the world’s smallest violin. But the company’s Soli Radar doesn’t necessarily see commercial success, mainly in bad pixel phones. Now Google has launched an open source API standard called Ripple that could theoretically bring technology to additional devices outside Google, perhaps even in a car, as Ford is one of the participants in the new standard.
Technically, Ripple is under the auspices of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the same industry body that hosts the CES show in Las Vegas every January, but there is no doubt as to who is really behind the project. “Ripple will unlock useful innovations for the benefit of all. General purpose radar is a key emerging technology for resolving complex usage cases while respecting privacy,” read a quote from Ivan Poupyrev, a team leader at GOogle’s ATAP Skunkworks. Who discovered Soli in the first place.
“Standard Radar AP” seems to be the original name.
Respectfully, the GitHub Ripple Project is full of references from Google, including various examples of “Copyright 2021 Google LLC” and contributors must sign a Google Open Source License Agreement to participate. (A commit indicates that the project was updated “to include CTA.”) Ripple appears to be a rebranding of Google’s “Standard Radar API”, which it quietly proposed a year ago (PDF).
None of that makes it any less exciting that Soli could get new life, though, and there may be something in the idea that radar has privacy benefits. This is a technology that can easily detect if someone is present, nearby, and / or tells their device to do something without the need for a microphone or camera.
Ford, for its part, tells The Verge that indoor radar could be part of its driver-assist technology. Right now, the automaker says it is instead using “advanced external radar” to research those features (which I find expensive). Here is a statement from Ford’s Jim Bukowski, who is currently leading the company’s research and advanced engineering team:
We are exploring how to use indoor radar as a source of sensors to enhance various customer experiences, in addition to our Ford CoPilot360 driver-assisted technologies that now use advanced external radar. The standard API, with input from the semiconductor industry, will give us the freedom to develop hardware-independent software purchases and innovate software teams on multiple radar platforms.
Other companies are also exploring radar: Amazon is also investigating whether radar can help track your sleep patterns; This smart dog collar uses miniature radar to monitor important signals, whether your dog is very furry or hairy, and this bulb does the same for humans.
But most of the participants listed in Google’s initiative so far are chip and sensor vendors, including only Ford and Bloomio, which have development kits for radar-based blood pressure sensors.