Imagine being able to control your smartphone without touching it? Dismissing a notification or snoozing an alarm with just a wave of your hand? The idea, then called ‘Air Gestures’, was first propagated by Samsung with the Galaxy S4 and more recently with the Galaxy Note 10 series. Now, Google Pixel 4 will use a radar-based Soli chip to introduce Motion Sense, a feature that provides similar touchless gesture-based controls. Soli also enables a Face Unlock feature on the Pixel 4.
But the Soli chipset could also be the reason why the Pixel 4 phones are not making their way to India, the only growing smartphone market globally. So what is this Soli radar and Motion Sense on Pixel 4 and why is the Pixel 4 not coming to India? We explain.
What is Project Soli?
Project Soli, driven by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team, was first showcased back in 2015. The idea is that a radar chip can be used to detect hand movements and gestures to interpret what they could mean. It’s only recently that Google figured out how to reduce the size of this radar chip and fit it on the front of the smartphone, still ensuring accuracy. And that’s why it is coming to Pixel 4.
So what exactly does the Soli radar chip do?
Soli is a dedicated radar chip on the front of the Pixel to collect raw data of hand gestures and then interpret them correctly for the right commands. Google says the miniature radar understands human motions at various scales, from the tap of a finger to the movements of the body. It is always sensing for movement while maintaining a low footprint — keep in mind Soli is not a camera and doesn’t capture any visual images.
Soli relies on a custom-built machine learning (ML) model to understand a large range of possible movements. Google says these models run on the device and sensor data is never sent to their servers.
The Soli radar chip emits electromagnetic waves in a broad beam and when a human hand interacts with this, some of these waves are reflected back to the antenna. The ML-model quickly interprets the properties of the reflected signal to carry out the required command.
This Motion Sense technology allows Pixel 4 users to wave their hands to snooze an alarm or skip songs or go back to the last song without touching the screen. Users will have the option of going to settings to turn Motion Sense on or off.
However, Motion Sense will only work in countries where this radar tech has been approved for consumer use. The list includes “US, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, and most European countries.” India has not yet given a go-ahead for this technology.
So what has Google said about the Pixel 4 not launching in India?
A Google spokesperson said the company has a wide range of products that they make available in different regions around the world. “We determine availability based on a variety of factors, including local trends, and product features. We decided not to make Pixel 4 available in India. We remain committed to our current Pixel phones and look forward to bringing future Pixel devices to India.”
There is no mention of the Soli radar chip, though it could be a good reason for no selling the phone in India.
So why does India not allow the Soli chip?
The Soli radar chip works on the 60 GHz spectrum frequency as it has the least interference for the kind of minute movements Google wants to track. However, the 60 GHz spectrum is not commercially usable in India.
In a consultation paper titled “Proliferation of Broadband through Public Wi-Fi Networks,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India wrote that “most countries have already delicensed the 60 GHz band and this band has a good device ecosystem. The 60 GHz band is also known as V-band or WiGig band (Wi-Fi at 60 GHz) using IEEE 802.11ad protocol.”
The TRAI also recommends that the “….V-band (57-64 GHz) may be explored for allocation to the telecom service providers.” But that is yet to happen. Without this USP available it the country, it would not have made much sense for Google to bring the pricey Pixel 4 to India.