There are times when you simply should not be holding your smartphone — like when you bike or exercise. There has been some effort to make it easier to use our devices hands-free via voice assistants like Siri and Google Now, but they don’t always work well. Google wants to put the power to control your phone in your clothes with Project Jacquard. That’s right, the threads in your clothes may soon be woven out of “gesture-sensing fabric” that can recognize swipes and taps as triggers for activities on your phone.
Jacquard was announced in 2015, but at I/O this year, Google gave us a demo of the first prototype in collaboration with Levi’s. The Commuter jacket is able to add pins to the wearer’s map, play the next song, and more — all with just a swipe or tap of the sleeve. Google says the Commuter jacket from Levi’s will be available in the spring of 2017, but it’s opening up the platform for developers to add support for their apps later this year. Soon, any clothing company will be able to weave its garments with gesture-sensing fabric, and the best part? You can machine wash your techie clothes.
Project Soli also revolves around the idea of hands-free control — but it extends to almost any device that can integrate a Soli chip. This is another project Google unveiled last year, but has since improved considerably. At I/O 2016, Google showed that it has miniaturized the chip, so it can now fit in something as small as a smartwatch. Soli uses radar technology that allows people to control objects via hand gestures. For example, if your speakers have an embedded Soli chip, you could theoretically change the song with a wave of a hand from across the room. In person, it’s really amazing to see gesture control without any cameras or sensors visible.
The chip’s range extends to 15 meters, but it can also be utilized when you’re really close — a Google ATAP representative controlled a Soli-embedded smartwatch via a hand gesture at the I/O event. The Soli development kit will launch next year.
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Project Ara may be the most anticipated ATAP project from Google. If you ever found yourself longing for the latest tech in smartphones, but couldn’t afford to buy a new device — Ara may be the right answer. Google believes you shouldn’t need to upgrade your whole device just to get a better camera. Instead, why not buy the newest camera module and replace the old one from your phone? Ara makes modular phones a reality. Google is making modules — like high-quality cameras, a bigger capacity battery, secondary E-Ink displays, and high-definition speakers — that you can simply swap out of your Ara device. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to the processor and RAM anymore, but Ara’s intention is to make modular phones mainstream.
The coolest demonstration at I/O 2016 was when Google’s Engineering Lead Rafa Camargo said, “OK Google, eject my camera,” and the camera module popped out from the phone. The Project Ara development kit will be available later this year, and Google says the first Google Ara device will launch in 2017.
A robot painting a cube
Google is home to a number of interesting projects, including a robot arm that was painting a cube. At Google I/O 2016 a robot held a paintbrush and spattered a large white cube with colorful drops of paint a la Jackson Pollock. However, the spray wasn’t totally random — the robot’s actions were directed by a person using an app on a smartphone. As the cube rotated on its platform, the robot spun is arm to fling paint a it surface. The result was gorgeous, and things only got more interesting as the cube picked up more paint.
This isn’t a consumer device that you’ll be able to buy, but it is an interesting demonstration of the power of robots and the ability to control robots with a smartphone.
MIT and Google bring coding to kids
MIT and Google introduced the next-generation of the kid-friendly visual coding language “Scratch” at I/O. The open source version of the language is called “Scratch Blocks,” and it’s based on Google’s visual programming code Blockly. The idea is to teach young kids the basics of code with visual blocks that you snap together either horizontally or vertically. The new version is better suited to mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, and the developer preview is available now. We saw the coding language in action on a Lego set, and moved a block to get the Lego set’s arm to spin a third time.
Google and MIT hope to bring coding apps and kits to kids in the future, though it’s just research for now.
Autonomous Android Vehicle
Every year, Google challenges its fans to create interesting Android experiments, and this year’s winner was the Autonomous Android Vehicle by Al Bencomo from San Jose, California. Bencomo built a robot that recognizes, tracks, and follows a color object as it moves around a room. It can even avoid obstacles that come into its path, thanks to IR sensors. The Nexus 5X connects to an IOIO board via Bluetooth and the phone’s camera controls the vehicle.
We saw the vehicle in action, as it chased a bright green ball on a string. Every time an obstacle presented itself, the vehicle smartly moved out of the way and found a new route. Although you can’t buy this Android-powered robot at the moment, it’s proof that Android phones can be used as remote controls for some pretty amazing things.