Google's Nest Hub devices use ultrasound sensing to improve vision accessibility

It can detect user movements within 4 feet of the device.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

Google released its Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max earlier this year, but the company has since updated the devices with ultrasound sensing capabilities to improve accessibility for older adults and people with vision impairment, the company said in a blog post on Wednesday.

Ultrasound sensing detects a user's distance from the Nest Hub devices to provide users with appropriate information depending on how close the user is from the devices.

"If you're close, the screen will show you more details and touch controls, and when you're further away, the screen changes to show only the most important information in larger text," Google said.

In the blog post, Google explained that the device could detect a user's distance by emitting inaudible sound waves that bounce off objects within a 4 feet range from the device, which are then picked back up by the device's microphones.

See also: Vulnerabilities in Google Nest Cam IQ can be used to hijack the camera, leak data

According to Ashton Udall, a Google Nest Product Manager, the ultrasound feature was created after Google's Smart Display team noticed how older adults would "often walk up to the device to read the information on the screen, because [they] couldn't see it easily from across the room".

To develop the screen designs for ultrasound sensing, Google tested varying text heights, contrast levels, and information density. It also measured the ease with which people could read information on the device's display. 

The ultrasound sensing will function entirely on the device and will only be able to detect large-scale motion, such as a person's movements, without being able to identify who the person is, Google said.

When the feature was first released last month, ultrasound sensing could be used to display relevant information for timers, commute timers, and weather. From next week, Udall said, it will also be extended to show reminders, appointments, and alerts when users approach the display sometime next week.

Earlier this week, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, announced that Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leaving their roles as CEO and president effectively immediately and Google CEO Sundar Pichai has been appointed to assume the CEO role of Google and Alphabet.


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