This time nearly a year ago, I was genuinely excited.

The month was June of 2019. Rumors were flying fast about Google’s then-still-under-wraps Pixel 4 phone, and an especially juicy one had just made its way to the surface.

The Pixel 4 would feature a wild new kind of radar system, the grapeline informed us — a system we’d been hearing about from Google for years but that had remained a lab-based experiment up until that point. It was called Project Soli, and Goog almighty, did it sound promising.

Project Soli got its start as a part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division and had been the subject of several awe-inspiring demos over the years. The Pixel 4, though, would mark the first time we’d see it in an actual user-facing product — and the first time we mere tech-toting mortals would have the chance to experience its magical-seeming wares.

It should have been spectacular. And it should have been just the beginning.

But here we are today, nearly seven months to the day from the Pixel 4’s debut — and the phone’s flashy radar system, now known as Motion Sense, hasn’t even come close to meeting its potential. What’s more, a fresh set of rumors suggests Google could be giving up on the effort entirely with its Pixel phones and going Soli-free with this year’s Pixel 5 flagship.

If so, it’d be a classic Google about-face — yet another one of the company’s many moments of having some inspired idea, breathlessly convincing us of its value, and then losing interest and moving on instead of nourishing the notion and allowing it to develop. And with Motion Sense in particular, that’d be a damn shame to see — because this system really had the potential to turn into something special.

We’ll get into why as well as the question of what might’ve happened along the way in a moment. First, we need to rewind for a second to refresh ourselves on what Google’s crazy-sounding radar system was supposed to accomplish — and then come back to what it’s actually done so far. Because boy howdy, is there quite the contrast between those two things.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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