Infineon’s 60GHz Radar MMICs – Making the augmented reality breakthrough a reality

  • For the first time ever, two products for end users have been presented that can be precisely operated – by hand movements alone
  • Google and Infineon will begin joint marketing of the underlying technology commercially in mid 2017
  • Gestural control represents the key technology needed to achieve a real breakthrough in augmented reality

There are lots of approaches to using augmented reality for fusing physical and simulated reality. But what’s been missing till now is a fast, intuitive transmission of commands to the computer. To date, much of the focus has been on touch sensitive touchscreens. These, however, mean the user needs to be in constant “close contact” with the computer. On the other hand, there’s speech recognition: This allows greater flexibility, but it’s largely limited to individual users.

Gesture-based control of devices by hand signals closes this gap. Thereby gestural control opens the 3rd dimension, breaking free of the two-dimensional user interface. This technology was developed by Google and Infineon over the last few years under the internal name “Soli”. A 9 x 12.5 mm radar chip from Infineon sends and receives waves that reflect off the user’s finger. Fine hand movements, like winding a watch. Just a few decades ago it took a parabolic antenna with a 50 m diameter to do what the chip’s technology can do today. 

Radar offers unique peculiarities:

  •   Insensitive to the light
  •   Can transmit over plastic materials like polycarbonate
  •   3D gesture recognition possible
  •   Recognition of overlapping fingers
  •   Sub-millimeter resolution with micro-Doppler and time analysis

The chip is made in Regensburg. It combines over two-decades’ worth of experience in high-frequency micro-technology. This sounds impressive – and yet it’s only complete with the algorithm that breathes life into the data. This is where the team from Google’s ATAP come in (short for Advanced Technology and Projects Group). Side-by-side with engineers from Infineon, these software specialists researched and developed long and hard until they had turned the niche application into a tangible product with mass market potential.

Raise the curtain: The new smartwatch from LG and the JBL wireless speaker

For the first time ever there will now be two end products available on the market in 2017 that can be precisely operated – by hand movements alone: At the “Google I/O”, the annual developer conference in Mountain View, California, Google presented a new smartwatch by the device manufacturer LG and a wireless speaker from the high-end speaker brand JBL. Both contain the revolutionary feature and can be operated despite jumpy jogger hands or the dough-spattered fingers of the hobby chef. At the heart of both is the Infineon chip and the software from Google. Beginning in mid 2017, both companies will co-market the hardware and software as a single solution.

“Gesture sensing offers a new space of revolutionizing the human-machine interface by enabling mobile and fixed devices with a third dimension of interaction,” says Ivan Poupyrev, Technical Program Lead of Google ATAP. “This will fill the existing gap of a convenient alternative for touch- and voice controlled interaction.”

For all manufacturers who use the Infineon’s 60GHz radar MMICs chip, uniform, intuitive hand movements have been created that can be used worldwide in exactly the same way. These can replace all kinds of buttons and switches and make the devices operable remotely: “Humans began using tools 2.4 million years ago,” says Andreas Urschitz, Head of the Power Management & Multimarket Division at Infineon. “Now, for the first time in history, the tools are geared to the ones using them, and not the other way around.”

One-of-a-kind applications. For several hundred million users.

Based on internal data, Infineon projects that the addressable market for wireless speakers by the end of 2016 will be around 80 million units. The adressable market for smartwatches is just as great: 60 million units, in 2016 alone. The trend is rising.

LG and JBL could make some serious headway in their respective markets. But the developers’ ambitions go even further: “Our goal is to define a new industry standard,” says Poupyrev, “with an overwhelming performance and an utterly new user experience. We want a core technology that advances a breakthrough, one that makes augmented reality and IoT a reality.

Virtual reality is not new. Thus far, from a technological standpoint, applications haven’t succeeded in truly representing “new realities” – their users haven’t been able to interact with them. The 60GHz radar application from Google and Infineon closes this gap. Who knows, but a few years from now we might all feel at home with holograms as we are today with a book or a tablet.