Google is forging new ground in the fiercely competitive world of smartwatches. The tech titan recently unveiled a patent that proposes a transformative way to interact with wearable devices. Soon, users may be able to control their smartwatches with hand or finger gestures made on their own forearms.
The search giant’s new patent addresses a long-standing issue in the world of wearables: the limited interactive area provided by small screens. Extending the touch screen too much or limiting the display content can detract from the user experience. Google’s solution? An entirely different control method that makes use of the user’s forearm.
Gesture control patent
As first reported by Patently Apple, this filing was published in Europe on May 10, 2023. It goes under number 21795230.
The proposed method involves the wearable device receiving light at a detector. The light splits into two components: a focused-light component and a stray-light component. Then, by analyzing the light for pixel values, a gesture is identified.
How does the smartwatch recognise different gestures, we hear you ask? The design of the gesture classifier allows it to distinguish between various types of gestures based on stored reference patterns that correspond to each type of gesture. It’s a bit like having a personal sign language interpreter sitting on your wrist!
You could, for example, use gesture control to start and stop apps on the watch. Or control volume on connected earbuds. Also, when users are busy with tasks such as cooking, driving, or carrying things, gesture controls can allow for safe and convenient operation of the smartwatch.
To support this technology, the wearable on your wrist equips itself with a photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor. This sensor, which is already used to measure heart rates, uses LEDs to transmit focused light towards the user’s wrist. When the user makes a gesture on the wrist or forearm, the light reflects back to the detector on the PPG sensor.
A filtering block is configured to isolate a stray-light component of the back-reflected light to ensure accuracy. While the patent doesn’t specify if gestures could be made over clothing, it suggests that the sensor directs the light towards the area used for touch control, such as the wrist or forearm.
Fitbit acquisition and beyond
As Google potentially forges ahead with this technology, it is worth noting the company’s history in the smartwatch arena. Google significantly boosted their entry into the smartwatch market by acquiring Fitbit. This move not only expanded the company’s portfolio of wearable devices but also provided valuable insights into health-related data and user trends in the wearable tech space.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
But Google is struggling to cut into Apple’s significant market share. As of the fourth quarter of 2022, the Apple Watch commanded a staggering 27.5% of the global market. Google trailed far behind with an 8% share. This patent could be another step in Google’s strategy to differentiate their products and make a dent in Apple’s market dominance.
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