Mobile devices can now know what things are made of …

Posted on September 1, 2019


Back in 2016 Google showed off their radar gadget that could detect objects.  It uses radar and is taught the signature of objects, so that it can then recognise them when they are placed on the detector. It’s the size of a coaster for your mug to tea,  and yes the device could tell the difference between cup of tea and a cup of coffee, apple and oranges, different metals, plastics etc.   You can see this in action on youtube
Just to be clear, this means your device can know the properties of what you present it, we are entering proper science fiction land.

An amazing bit of kit,  that is just now starting to come to the market. It is reported that the new google devices will have this sensor build into the devices.  This is amazing.   Just think your phone can tell you what it’s pressed against. I say pressed against because it needs the object to be still enough to obtain a refine signature.

Just think if you are an engineer, and not sure what material something is made of, well now you do, is this a counterfeit bootle of whiskey, does this aluminium block have the correct alloys in it ?
Also the radar can clearly detect hand movements in the space above,  and because it’s not reliant on visible light, it works in the dark.  This will be great for many uses including, I hope, for deaf people to be able to sign,  for folks with impaired movement to interact with the phone.   Further if you’re blind having the phone be able to tell you what it is next to could be very useful,  as in the video to tell the difference between a bottle with milk in it, as opposed to say, bleach. Earlier this year the team have released a new video that shows that as the AI training software has become so fine tuned it cannot detect and count sheets of paper, see the arrangement of lego blocks etc,  making the sensor even more useful in, say a retail setting, or similar.
Seems to me that as the working parts of the sensor are small and light,  you could also have them in wearables,  say in gloves, that will inform you what you’re touching.  Again useful for a poorly sighted person.  

Combine this with the new lidar sensors that are emerging, and are able to give phone a 3D map of the area surrounding it (and if they cooperate, in a wider space) this is going to be a wild ride.
Once last thought,  for emergency workers such as fire fighters, it seems to me that this could be a very useful set of sensors to ensure their safety and for risk analysis.  If the Radar sensor could let you know how flammable something is,  including it’s contents,  then that would help a lot, I should think.
If you’re wondering why it’s taken me so long to write about this amazing bit of kit,  well that’s because I wanted to wait till they move out of the Lab and into the real world.  Seems Google is doing that now.
This Soli radar kit was from a project out of the university of St Andrews HCI lab.