Some marvels from Google's I/O developer conference
By Samuel Gibbs, TheGuardian.com
What do smart jeans that let you make a call, a small dot that allows people to control a computer or phone without touching anything and a project to make passwords history have in common? They’re all made by Google.
The search company showed off a series of prototypes and projects from its Advanced Technology and Projects (Atap) division – the forward looking development house Google inherited from Motorola when it bought the company– as part of its I/O developer conference.
Atap’s previous high-profile projects have included Project Tango, a depth-sensing smartphone and tablet, and the modular smartphone concept Project Ara, which promises to reinvent the way smartphones are made and sold, allowing them to be upgraded or altered to suit the situation by using small, plug-and-play modules.
Both Tango and Ara’s latest developments were shown off this year: Ara got a working prototype while Google announced a partnership with Qualcomm to make the Tango smartphone a reality. But it was Google’s other projects that took the spotlight.
Have you ever wanted to control your smartphone, TV, computer or tablet by rubbing your thighs, Shooting Stars-style? Google’s working on it.
The company’s smart fabric is laced with conductive wire that acts like a touchscreen layer which detects the changes in conductance when touched. The woven textile monitors touch and can be used like a laptop trackpad to control any number of functions.
The Android-maker has partnered with Levi’s to create smart clothing that will integrate Jacquard’s technology into special touch-sensitive areas. Quite when you’ll be able to buy touch-sensitive jeans was not announced, but Google’s not the only one working on smart clothing.
Not content with making everything a touch-sensitive control panel, Google stole a page out of Leap Motion’s books and made a radar system capable of registering hand gestures made in mid-air.
The small radar sensor can be embedded into almost any surface, according to Google, creating a control zone in the air above it. Trialists of the technology reported that Soli was more accurate than Leap’s technology, while its small size means it could be fitted to anything, from smartwatches to coffee machines.
Leap Motion, while impressive in concept and technology, failed to prove its worth in computer or gaming control, and users often found holding their hands in the air in front of them for any extended period of time difficult and even painful. Google hopes embedding the technology in other products for short, sharp interactions can negate these issues.
Abacus is its name, password killing is its game. Photograph: Info/Getty Images
Passwords are broken. The number of login details people need to remember these days makes keeping separate, hard-to-break passwords in your head almost impossible.
Google’s Project Abacus is attempting to kill the password and replace it with human interaction. The premise is simple: each of us has a unique usage pattern, from the way we hold and move a device to our typing cadence and touch patterns on a keyboard.
Abacus attempts to capture and quantify that information and use it to verify that a user is who they say they are without requiring a specific set of login details.
After running a series of trials with 33 different universities across the US, Google reckons that the technology is viable and 10 times more secure than than using fingerprints.
In its current form, the technology works similarly to Android’s smartlock feature, which uses facial recognition, among other things, to attempt to seamlessly identify the user.
If it can’t safely figure out if the user is who they say they are, it will ask for a password, but if the technology works it simply lets them into the phone or app.
Different apps could also have different security settings, requiring more stringent verification for banking apps, for instance. The multifactor system would also be incredibly hard to fake.