Last month, Amazon was quietly granted a waiver by the FCC to use 60 GHz frequencies in devices to provide radar-like features in fixed devices. This follows a similar waiver for Google’s Project Soli in 2018 as well as several other approvals for automobile applications. Now the FCC isn’t being quiet about these efforts: This week it published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the topic of using these frequencies in various products for radar sensing features.
This is a big deal and underscores what we’ve been saying for at least two years: there’s a high-frequency wireless revolution coming for smart devices. With these latest developments, you could even argue the revolution is now.
Let’s look at the recent news before getting into the big picture.
With the FCC waiver, Amazon is now allowed to use 60 GHz radios as “Radar Sensors” in future smart devices:
“The Radar Sensors would enable touchless control of device features and functions without causing harmful interference to co-frequency users, thus providing significant benefits to consumers with mobility, speech, or tactile impairments. In addition, the Radar Sensors would be used for sleep tracking and could help improve consumers’ awareness and management of sleep hygiene.”
This lines up with previous reports that Amazon, like Google, will offer an Echo device that uses 60 GHz radar to measure sleep metrics such as movement, time awake vs time asleep, sleep apnea tracking, and possibly more. Using its Project Soli technology, Google introduced similar sleep sensing features in its most recent Nest Hub product.
But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg for such radar technologies, as noted by the FCC proposal:
“A wide range of applications could fall under these revised rules, including medical imaging devices and Internet of Things technologies for in-home automation services like environmental control and smart home appliances. And the rules could support enterprise solutions like factory automation and further bolster safety and security devices and intelligent transport options.”
It means such applications could be used for gesture controls of any number of smart devices in the home. Maybe we’ll swipe through television channels over a short-range radar-enabled remote, or I’ll be able to raise the temperature of my smart oven with a simple twist of my wrist in the air.
On the industrial side of things, this technology is likely better suited for sensing where, or how many, products are in a specific place on a manufacturing assembly line. For logistics, it could provide spatial information of products for packing purposes. The opportunities are truly limitless.
This radio technology may sound similar to UWB, or ultrawideband, mainly because both use wireless frequencies in the 60 GHz range. But there is a key difference between the two.
UWB uses bursts of “pings” scattered across a wide band of spectrum (hence the name) to detect something, like an Apple AirTag, for example. The approved radar applications are continuously sending radio waves looking to see what and where physical objects are.
Best of all, UWB and radar solutions can both use the 60 GHz spectrum without interfering with each other thanks to the different ways they work.
And it’s possible that the same 60 GHz wireless frequencies with yet another modulation scheme could one day be used for Wi-Fi sensing, which Stacey recently reported on.
With the FCC’s effort to expand the use of what it calls “radar sensors” in a broad range of applications, it’s likely to become much easier for all IoT companies to take advantage of this tech.
However, this is just a proposal for now, as clearly stated by the FCC:
“Today’s action seeks to open the door for additional technological uses in the 57 to 64 GHz portion of that band while asking questions about the applicability in the broader 57 to 71 GHz band, and proposing rules and seeking comment on how best to ensure coexistence among new and existing users.”
It means that the FCC is now saying what we’ve been saying: There’s a huge potential value in this technology.
But as a regulatory body, the FCC has to be careful to ensure that this technology doesn’t cause interference with other wireless devices. However, by approving the Amazon waiver, the FCC believes the usage of 60 GHz radar will “serve the public interest.” So do we.
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