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Google Nest Hub feature inspired by echolocation

Google has taken inspiration from nature in the design of its Nest Hub, using pulses of ultrasound to detect features of the surroundings.

The Google Nest Hub (formerly Home Hub) is a smart home display which can connect to and control thousands of other IOT devices, such as doorbells and thermostats.

According to Google, its engineers turned to the abilities of bats and dolphins when designing the Nest Hub. Bats and dolphins are capable of navigating in the dark using echolocation: nature’s answer to sonar. These animals emit sound waves, which echo from nearby objects. Listening to these echoes allows them to locate and identify objects, including prey.

The Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max uses ultrasound to adapt to users’ movements. When a user directs a command or question at their device, the device uses ultrasound to estimate their distance. If they are some distance away, the smart display enlarges text (such as a timer, estimated commute time, or weather forecast) to make it easier to read. If it is determined that the person is closer, the text will be displayed smaller. The company will be rolling out the feature to other types of text over the next week.

“We wanted to create a better experience for people who have low vision,” Ashton Udall, Google’s product lead for the device, explained in a blog post. “We set out to create a way for more people to easily see our display from any distance in a room, without compromising the useful information the display could show when nearby.”

According to Udall, he had noticed that the size of the text displayed on the Nest Hub was an issue after his 74-year-old father was forced to walk up to the device to read information from the screen.

Udall said that this mode of sensing was too low-resolution for Google to be able to differentiate between individuals.

“Because this is using low-resolution sensing technology, ultrasound sensing happens entirely on the device and is only able to detect large-scale motion (like a person moving) without being able to identify who the person is.”

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