With a click of the fingers, researchers foresee a new user interface

The way we interact with computers, smart watches, and other devices could be transformed after computer scientists at St Andrews University made further advances in the use of miniature radar.

The university’s computer human interaction research group (SACHI) is a pioneer in what is known as solinteraction, which demonstrates the potential for radar-based interaction

It has worked with Google on Project Soli, a radar-based sensor that can sense the micro and subtle motion of human fingers.

In a move that could herald a major advance in the technology, the US Federal Communications Commission has recently granted Google a waiver that allows Project Soli sensors to use frequencies between 57 and 64 Ghz, which are higher than typically allowed in normal gadgets.

In 2015, Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP) showed off tiny radar-based sensors that enabled users to control gadgets simply by tapping their fingers together.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies the St Andrews researchers demonstrate a range of novel techniques.

“Research has explored miniature radar as a promising sensing technique for the recognition of gestures, objects, users’ presence and activity,” said Professor Aaron Quigley, chair of Human Computer Interaction at St Andrews. “However, within human computer interaction its use remains under-explored – in particular in a tangible user interface.

“In this paper, we explore two research questions with radar as a platform for sensing tangible interaction with the counting, ordering, and identification of objects and tracking the orientation, movement, and distance of these objects.

“We detail the design space and practical use-cases for such interaction which allows us to identify a series of design patterns, beyond static interaction, which are continuous and dynamic.

“This exploration is grounded in both a characterisation of the radar sensing and our rigorous experiments which show that such sensing is accurate with minimal training.”

Commenting on solinteraction, lead researcher and 3rd year PHD student Hui Shyong Yeo said: “The advent of low cost miniature radar being deployed in day to day settings opens new forms of object and material interactions as we demonstrate in this work.”