Google’s Ripple is an open source radar API that will enable new, privacy-friendly smart devices

Since 2015, Google has been using tiny radar chips. These devices haven’t had much commercial success yet, but they can do some pretty cool stuff. For example, Google’s Soli Radar can monitor your sleep patterns, control a smartwatch, and count individual sheets of paper. Now the search giant has launched Ripple, an open source API standard that could bring the technology to non-Google devices, including your automobile.

If you look at Project Ripple on Github, you might think it’s a creation of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). They are the ones who bring us CES every year. As you dig into the source code, however, you’ll see a lot of references to Google. Project contributors must sign an open source license agreement with Google to participate.

Copyright text in a Ripple source code file
This copyright notice of a Ripple source code file points to Google as its creator (click to enlarge)

Ripple was born from the Google Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) program. Ivan Poupyrev, Director of Engineering and Head of Technical Projects for Google ATAP, recently announced the importance from Ripple’s open source API. “General purpose radar is a key emerging technology for solving critical use cases in a privacy-friendly manner,” he said.

Soli, through the Ripple API, could use radar technology to help protect your privacy. It can easily determine if someone is nearby without using a microphone or camera. The technology could also be used to understand someone’s movements, such as detecting falls or helping direct pedestrian traffic. Ripple could even activate touchless gesture controls, like when Tom Cruise’s character slides and waves across screens in Minority report.

Ford wants to use Ripple to “improve various customer experiences” far beyond its current driver assistance technologies. This functionality currently relies on advanced outdoor radars, but a standard API like Ripple could allow the automaker to develop its software independently of the bespoke radar hardware it needs to use now.

Other Ripple participants already include Blumio, Infineon, NXP, and Texas Instruments. Blumio is perhaps the most interesting of the group, as he is involved in the development of sensors that can measure blood pressure without ever touching your body.

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