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Google’s Soli radar returns to track sleep on the new Nest Hub – TechCrunch

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Talk about surprise comebacks. This morning Google announced the arrival of the next-gen Nest Hub. Despite rebranding from Google Home Hub in 2019, the intelligent screen hasn’t seen many changes since its 2018 introduction. Today’s arrival doesn’t represent a massive upgrade from its predecessor but supports a familiar and primarily forgotten face.

We haven’t heard a peep from Project Soli since the technology was introduced with the Pixel in late-2019. The miniature motion-sensing radar tech was positioned to be a significant selling point, finally arriving on a device four years after being announced. Applications were relatively few and far between — including gesture detection and a weird, one-off Pokémon app.

The Pixel 5 arrived the following year without a trace of Motion Sense. And then it just went away. Abandoning features certainly isn’t unheard of in consumer electronics, but it seemed odd for something in which Google had invested time and resources.

Google

Soli’s reemergence in the new Nest Hub is undoubtedly unexpected but may make more sense than any of its attempted mobile applications. The primary use here is sleep tracking, the most significant update between the new Nest Hub and the original; as for why Soli, the answer goes more profound than that Google was looking for a new home for its existing tech (though that no doubt also played a role).

Like the first-gen product, there’s no camera on the new Nest Hub. Google’s decision to keep the tech off the device is a breath of fresh air in a world where the new Amazon Echo uses figure tracking tofollow you around the room. As before, you can always opt for the Nest Hub Max if that feature’s essential. But the company rightfully noted that the first-gen model was often deployed at bedsides.

That means:

  1. Sticking a camera on the connected device raises some major privacy concerns.
  2. It’s an ideal spot for doing some sleep tracking.

This leads us to:

  1. How do you do sleep tracking without a camera?

The easy answer is a wearable device. Google now has a much stronger foothold in that world that its Fitbit acquisition has cleared. But that deal is going to take some time to take root fully. And besides, as someone who has tested a lot of wearables in my day, I can say that, no matter how comfortable, I sleep better without one on my wrist. Indeed the irony of being kept awake by a sleep tracker has not escaped me.

Here is a quick refresher on Soli tech, per Google:

Soli consists of a millimeter-wave frequency-modulated continuous-wave (FMCW) radar transceiver that emits an ultra-low-power radio wave and measures the reflected signal from the scene of interest. The frequency spectrum of the reflected signal contains an aggregate representation of the distance and velocity of objects within the scene.

This signal can be processed to isolate a specified range of interest, such as a user’s sleeping area, and detect and characterize a wide range of emotions within this region, ranging from large body movements to sub-centimeter respiration.

So, you’re trading camera-based sensing for mini-bedside radar. It’s a weird thing to wrap your brain around, indeed. The biggest thing here is that the motion-tracking data is not collecting any images, just data based on movement.

According to the company, the Sleep Sensing system was trained on more than 100,000 hours of sleep data. TensorFlow is used to analyze data; it can eliminate external movement, like ceiling fans, after the initial calibration. In addition to tracking, the system leverages other sleep-centric features rolled out to the last Nest Hub via a software update, including Sunrise Alarm and the ability to sleep your wake-up call with a gesture.

Other software updates are on board, including a new innovative home interface. On the whole, however, there aren’t too many improvements beyond sleep tracking — which is okay since the original remains one of the better bright screens on the market.

The speaker got a little love with added bass, which is essentially the same. The screen size remains 7 inches, while the overall device footprint is slightly larger to accommodate the slight speaker improvement. The body is made from 54% post-consumer plastic.

At $99, the price is certainly right. Google shaved off $49 from the original Hub. It’s up for pre-order starting today and will be available for sale on the 30th

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