In the most recent Avengers movie, Tony Stark unlocks the secret to time travel the same way he invents all of his cool toys: by talking to his computer and waving his hands around in the air. If Google has its way, that’s how you’ll use its upcoming Pixel 4 phone. Minus the time travel bit.
The device will include a radar chip that lets you control your phone with hand gestures — no touching required. The feature, which Google is calling Motion Sense, is based on Project Soli, one of many experimental research endeavors in Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (or ATAP) division. A small chip in the front of the phone can detect tiny hand or finger movements. Early versions of Soli that Google showed off in 2015 could even measure sub-millimeter movements. Imagine rotating an invisible volume dial or sliding a thumb along your finger to fast forward a video player. That’s the kind of thing Soli was designed to do. And we don’t know how much progress Google has made in the years since.
The hand gestures are reminiscent of the way we’ve seen characters manipulate holograms and control computers in movies from Iron Man to Minority Report. The new gestures in the Pixel 4 are an early attempt at this — although it’s a bit less flashy and futuristic.
We don’t yet know the full extent of these gestures, but an early promo video shows a user swiping at a music app to skip tracks. They’re also not the only “hands-free” innovation to expect in this phone. Earlier this year, Google demoed a new, next-generation version of its voice assistant. It could handle multiple commands in a row, understand follow-up questions, and control virtually everything on the phone. The ability to hold a continued conversation or handle multiple tasks at once already makes the Assistant stand tall over competitors like Siri, and running the voice assistant directly on the device will only make it that much faster.