Tech of the Week: the key to unlocking technology is between your fingertips

Tom Cruise needed a pair of gloves to operate his pre-cog interface in Minority Report, but soon, with Google’s latest Project Soli, we won’t even need the wild arm movements Cruise uses, let alone gloves.

Welcome to Project Soli.

Announced at the latest Google I/O conference by the company’s Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) group, Project Soli is seeking to revolutionise the way we operate our mobile devices.

While touchscreen technology has been one of the most functional advances of modern technology, its uses in smaller screens such as wearables is often clumsy, frustrating, or both.

And it’s here where Project Soli comes in. A miniature chip the size of your fingernail, it’s a piece of technology that can be incorporated into any wearable or smartwatch. It can accurately measure hand and finger movements in real-time, using a special form of radar technology that easily fits within the small chip.

There’s a litany of impressive feats here, but Project Soli’s key feature is its tiny size. The minute form factor means it will not only be able to be featured in a wearable, but any piece of connected product from smart shirts to your home theatre system.

So how does it work, exactly? Through utilising the same technology found in radar, Project Soli can detect moving objects through high-frequency radio waves. It is, according to Google, far more accurate than gesture-tracking cameras.

Capturing motion at up to 10,000 fps, radar waves also have the ability to pass through various types of objects that would usually limit range.

As with its previous crazy-but-awesome projects such as Ara and Tango, much of what the ATAP group comes up with isn’t necessarily an end product. The stuff produced, however, can certainly be a signifier for technologies-to-come and the future of computing.

At least one side advantage from the usual load of technological possibilities, such as connected devices, is what this kind of technology can do for the medical industry.

Quadriplegics or patients limited in their range of motion can more easily access help from professionals or other types of technological support. Surgical staff may have better access to patient data—with a quick rub of their thumb—while they’re in the middle of an operation.

Currently, Soli is nothing more than a working prototype, which means there’s no information on release date, prices, or inclusion in future hardware. However, its possibilities are endless, and we’d certainly be very excited to give it a go.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).