Google has been publicly building tiny radar chips since 2015. They can tell you how well you sleep, control a smartwatch, count sheets of paper, and have you play the world’s smallest violin. But the company’s Soli radar hasn’t necessarily seen commercial success, primarily in an ill-fated Pixel phone. Now Google has launched an open source API standard called Ripple that could theoretically bring the technology to additional devices outside of Google, possibly even 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 each January, but there’s no doubt who is actually behind the project. “Ripple will unlock useful innovations for the benefit of all. General Purpose Radar is a key emerging technology for solving critical use cases while respecting privacy,” read a quote from Ivan Poupyrev, The man who led the team through G oogle’s ATAP skunkworks. who invented Soli in the first place.
“Standard Radar Api” seems to be the original Name.
Adritionally, the Github ripple project is filled with references to Google, including different instances of “Copyright 2021 Google LLC” and contributors must sign a Google Open Source license agreement to participate. (One commit points out that the project was updated “to include CTA.”) Ripple appears to be a rebranding of Google’s “Standard Radar API,” which it quietly proposed one year ago (PDF).
None of that makes it any less exciting that Soli might find new life, though, and there may be something to the idea that radar has privacy benefits. It’s a technology that can easily detect whether someone’s present, nearby, and/or telling their device to do something without requiring a microphone or camera.
Ford, for its part, tells The Verge that indoor radar might become part of its driver-assistance technologies. Right now, the automaker says it’s using “advanced exterior radars” to research those features instead (which sounds expensive to me). Here’s a statement from Ford’s Jim Buczkowski, who’s currently heading up the company’s Research and Advanced Engineering team:
We are investigating how to use indoor radar as a source of sensors to improve various customer experiences in addition to our Ford CoPilot360 driver assistance technologies which now use advanced exterior radars. A standard API, with input from the semiconductor industry, will allow us to develop hardware-independent software purchases and give software teams the freedom to innovate across multiple radar platforms.
Other companies are also exploring radar: Amazon is also investigating whether radar could help it track your sleep patterns; This smart dog collar uses miniature radar to monitor vital signs, even if your dog is very hairy or furry, and this bulb does the same for humans.
But most of the participants listed in Google’s initiatives so far are chip and sensor vendors, with only Ford and Blumio, which have a development kit for a radar-based blood pressure sensor, stand out.