4 new Google projects: a couple of words about Soli, Jacquard, Vault and Abacus

At the recent Google I/O conference, the ‘corporation of good’ announced (besides new Android versions, new services and other predictable things), four new projects: Soli, Jacquard, Vault and Abacus. Let’s

At the recent Google I/O conference, the ‘corporation of good’ announced (besides new Android versions, new services and other predictable things), four new projects: Soli, Jacquard, Vault and Abacus. Let’s see what those curios techs are about and how they can make our world a better place.


Project Soli is a tiny sensor designed for smart watches or fitness bands to more accurate-ly track hand movements and enable better control by gestures. The gestures would be used both for device control (a way more convenient option than trying to manipulate tiny objects on an equally tiny screen) and ecosystem control using a wireless connection as Bluetooth to transmit commands.

As we know, today’s gesture recognition technologies employ, mostly, the principle of analysing an image recorded by one or more cameras. But, first of all, it is a costly system as it requires a number of components, and, secondly, it is too demanding in terms of computing power and energy consumption.

The Soli sensor is, in essence, a minuscule radar operating on the 60 GHz frequency using just two antennas. The sensor scans 10 ‘frames’ per second, and the reaction is practically instantaneous (which is a priority in any similar interface).

And, besides that, you don’t need to wave your hands like mad as with Kinect: Soli is capable of detecting mi-cro-gestures like rubbing your fingers, or snapping.

It’s not really clear how ‘fast-learning’ this interface would be: it is quite obvious that, for instance, multi-touch gestures, excluding the most basic ones, are used by, literally, no one. The most critical task would be then to ensure finger gestures are extremely intuitive and predictable and not require a user to sustain long drills learning and exercising the gestures.

Project Jacquard (the noun means a certain type of cloth, so that you know) is designed to dramatically transform the fashion industry. The idea is based on integrating multi-touch sensors into the cloth, so we could use a spot on our sleeve or lap instead of a smartphone screen.

Besides the sensor surfaces themselves, the developers of the project Jacquard took care of special coloured conducting threads to connect sensors to controllers. That means, the threads would be clandestine and would not screw up the outfit design. Or, if you wish, they would be, quite on the contrary, visible to let the people around know you are wearing something unconventional, trendy and hi-techy.

It also is critical to mention that, from the technology perspective, the principle of integrating sensors into cloths has been already elaborated in a fashion that it does not raise the costs of producing such cutting-edge outfits. All you need is the conductive threads. So, it is not a nerdy concept bound to come true in 146 years from now: Google has already boasted its agreement with Levi’s, so the cybernetic jeans are expected to ar-rive really soon.

The use cases for them which immediately spring to mind are, of course, an ability to input data without tak-ing out any gadget with a touch screen (for instance, to dial a phone number) and to serve the substitution of gaming controllers and other conventional means of input.

Project Vault is a brand new technology of protecting data against unsolicited access, which is forecasted to be even more secure that a fingerprint scan. It meta-objective is to finally get rid of passwords. Easy passwords which are easily memorized due to their simplicity and sensibility are easily cracked by today’s computers in bare minutes. Complex passwords (the likes of Xj$7f(sQp]1v^4), on the other side, cannot be memorized by anyone, so it ends up being written on a post-it note which is nowhere close to being secure.

Vault is a very compact device with a form factor of a microSD card. “Real’ computer or smartphone, regard-less of the OS it operates, detects the card as a detachable storage device containing two files: one to write into and one to read from.

In fact, it is not a simple memory card. With all hardcore tech jibbering aside, it is a virtual computer, which is completely autonomous and has a job of encrypting and decrypting data, whereas external software, which-ever OS it is made for, performs a checksum to make sure the file read matched the file written and the key is accepted.

You can gain access to important data from any device, but only if you happen to possess this ‘wonderflash-drive’ containing, besides non-volatile memory, an ARM processor, an NFC module, and an antenna, all wrapped in a single solutions managed by the Linux-based RTOS operational system.

That means, for the anywhere any time authorization purposes, one would require to just plug in the storage and not put in a password. The whole idea, by the way, is not revolutionary: all in all, it is just the same old USB token or its predecessor, an LPT key, which are used by many in online banking applications. The draw-back of those traditional solutions is the impossibility to get access from other devices: a user has to use previously prepared settings and install drivers to make both work on a PC.

During the demo, the Vault project was showcased at the secure messaging demonstration. An outbound message in encrypted on one smartphone, the is transmitted over open-protocol networks and is decrypted on the destination device. No keys are passed and thus they cannot be intercepted.

Project Abacus is a completely new approach to user authentication. Instead of using a password, or two-factor model, which relies, again, on password and some other authentication method, Google’s researchers propose real multi-factor authentication, based on your location patterns, on how you talk, how you type and so on, and so forth. All these factors combined allow to identify a concrete person much more reliably than password.

The most amazing news here is that this technology doesn’t require any specific hardware, everything project Abacus needs to operate already exists in every modern smartphone. It’s just about adding some software. On the other side, this approach requires to gather a lot of information about user’s behaviour. And it’s quite uncomfortable, taking into account how much our data Google already has.