Google is more than just Android and chrome. It's not a search engine company. It's not even a software company. Because it does so much beyond the realms of consumer computing, I call Google a future technology company. And I'm sure many will agree. Google has been at the core of technological advancements other companies or individuals wouldn't even think of. And this article will include many examples of it.
Before we begin our journey, let's look at this small team called ATAP "pirates", or the Advanced Technology and Projects group. These guys do what they do best: research, innovate/invent and make anything possible. They work not to get it all right, but try to make a change from the “impossible” to "possible”.
ATAP came together just last year, and at I/O’14, they showed us Ara, a game-changing modular phone concept (in collaboration with Phonebloks, of course). This year at I/O, the ATAP team showed us some really interesting technology that in the coming years might change the way we interact with our gadgets.
Starting with Project Soli.
Soli came about after some intense research. Our brain has enough processing power to easily handle large screens like phones and tablets. However, the brain’s capacity is limited; and smartwatches take our brain to its limit. No doubt it feels cumbersome to interact with that small screen on our wrist. However, our brain is very intuitive at finger gestures, like the scroll motion we perform every day on our phones. Ivan Poupyrev, a member of the ATAP worked on Soli just to solve this smartwatch problem — by bringing touchless gestures.
Soli's hardware is a very tiny radar instrument. It practically does the same job as the huge antenna telescopes that scan the skies, just compressed into a tiny chip. Soli works slightly differently though: it broadcasts a wide beam, and the signals that reflect off your fingers generates a computer impulse. Soli is extremely fast and very sensitive. Its so sensitive that you can precisely set the time on a watch just by making a crown rotation motion with your fingers.
The research done for Project Soli also had a side effect. A side effect that ATAP exploited in its Project Jacquard.
Jacquard, unlike Soli, wants to bring the interface to fabric. This has no relation to smart clothes, but this project aims to turn sensitive, capacitive wires into thread that can be easily woven into fabric. No special machines required: the thread goes into pre-existing machines in mills an tuns the cloth into a touch sensitive panel for controlling your gadgets, much like how a trackpad controls the mouse on the computer screen.
And the big news: Levis. Levis, the iconic jean brand, is going to work with ATAP to experiment with the techy thread and hopefully bring it to the masses.
The ATAP hates passwords. “Passwords suck”. Of course no one like passwords. Although fingerprint scanners and face detection work, they aren’t very good at protection. So, Project Vault. A micro SD card that packs in a full computer that’ll secure all the digital content stored onto it. It works very much like a conventional SD card, just that everything that gets read and written has to pass through a full bunch of encryption services. The computer on the chip is “loaded up with a suit of cryptographic services like cacheing, signing, bulk encryption, streaming encryption, a hardware random number generator and 4 Gb of storage.” That is a lot of protection. So much, that a message sent through Vault will never come into notice of the host phone/hardware.
From encryption to production: the ATAP team worked on 360 degree video production, and by production, I mean a movie directed by Justin Lin. These movies are only watchable on phone on the Google Spotlight Stories app and they’ll provide you with the same immersive experience as VR. Get the app: Android (coming soon for iOS)
Finally, Ara. Project ARA is a modular phone concept Google has been developing since over a year. This I/O, they got the Ara phone working: they assembled the phone live, and used it to take a picture of the audience. Yes, modular phones work. Google will be doing its trials later this year at Puerto Rico. Read my previous articles on the topic: Phonebloks
The ATAP team shows that the future isn’t going to be very similar to what we think it’ll be. For now, I’m dreaming about my next pair of jeans. Keep Technonerding!