Google testing presence detection for invoking the Assistant on smart displays

Google testing presence detection for invoking the Assistant on smart displays

Google is making its smart displays more receptive to touch, and it appears the update may be part of a larger initiative to make these devices less reliant on voice interaction. According to a new video from Jan Boromeusz (via AndroidPolice), the same person that brought us an early look at the new smart display UI, Google is reportedly testing a presence detection feature for invoking the Assistant. If this feature goes live, users will no longer have to always say, “Hey Google” before uttering a command.

Presence detection will seemingly be made possible thanks to ultrasonic sensing features present in the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. On Nest Hub displays, a high-frequency noise is sent through the speakers; the displays then listen for the noise to bounce back, detecting people up to five feet away.


Google has previously used presence sensing to tailor the interface on Smart Displays accordingly. If you’re farther away, elements on the screen, including alarms, timer, fonts, and other graphics, will get larger. Presence sensing features were initially rolled out to the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max at the end of last year.

A video demonstrating the new presence detection initiation for Google Assistant was uploaded to YouTube. Whenever the author approaches his Nest Hub Max, the Assistant pops up and wait for their command — all without using any of Assistant’s familiar hotwords. If no command is made, the Assistant will eventually go away.

As mentioned, a feature like this would make Google’s Smart Displays a little less reliant on voice. Instead of invoking Assistant manually, users can simply approach their Nest Hub. Combined with the new UI Google recently unveiled, Smart Displays are suddenly much more touch-friendly. That ultimately makes them more accessible, too.

Of course, adding more presence sensing features to Smart Displays does raise privacy concerns, but it’s worth noting that this feature isn’t live for everyone, and it may never see the light of day. The user who uploaded this feature somehow got their hands on internal firmware for the Nest Hub Max, with a settings page for several dogfood features. While this feature has yet to be introduced, you can always disable ultrasonic sensing on your Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max if it truly makes you uncomfortable.

About author

Brandon Russell
Brandon Russell

Brandon's love of technology can be traced back to his childhood, when he would obsessively watch Back to the Future. Since then he's followed the industry and its many innovations, from handheld consoles to powerful smartphones. He's still waiting on a hoverboard.

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