Google’s Ripple Is An Open Source Radar API That Will Enable New Privacy-Respecting Smart Devices

With the Ripple standard radar API, privacy could be greatly enhanced

Since 2015, Google’s been dabbling with tiny radar chips. These devices haven’t had much commercial success as of 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 might bring the tech to non-Google devices, including your automobile.

If you look at the Ripple project on Github, you might think it’s a creation of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). They’re the ones who bring us CES every year. Digging into the source code, though, you’ll see plenty of references to Google. Contributors to the project have to sign an open-source license agreement with Google to participate.

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

Ripple found its inception out of the Google Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) program. Ivan Poupyrev, Director of Engineering and Technical Projects Lead for Google ATAP, recently announced the importance of Ripple’s open-source API. “General purpose radar is a key emerging technology for solving critical use cases in a privacy-respecting way,” he said.

Soli, through the Ripple API, could asollow the radar technology to help preserve your privacy. It can easily figure out if someone’s nearby without using a microphone or camera. The technology could also be used to understand someone’s movements, like detecting falls or helping direct pedestrian traffic. Ripple could even enable touchless gesture controls, like when Tom Cruise’s character swipes and waves through screens in Minority Report.

Ford is interested in using Ripple to “enhance various customer experiences” well beyond its current driver-assist technologies. That functionality currently depends on advanced exterior radars, but a standard API like Ripple could let the auto maker develop its software independent of the bespoke radar hardware it has to use now.

Other participants in Ripple already include Blumio, Infineon, NXP, and Texas Instruments. Blumio may be the most interesting of the bunch, since it is involved in developing sensors that can measure blood pressure without ever touching your body.