Chromebooks are gaining the ability to sense human presence for enhanced user interactions – Chrome Unboxed

As time goes by, Chromebook hardware continues getting better. Comparing current hardware perks to Chromebooks from years ago, it’s clear to see that Google fully intends on pushing Chromebooks into new territories from a hardware feature perspective. The HP Chromebook X2 11 I’m typing this on has a screen ratio that would have been incredibly rare just a few years ago, a USI pen that attaches and charges on the side, a sleek tablet form factor that didn’t exist back then, and a fingerprint scanner that didn’t appear until the Pixel Slate. Things have come a long way in 10 years.

Not content to sit back and stop moving forward, it looks like yet another cool ability is on the way to Chromebooks: human presence detection. While it is clear this is coming to Chromebooks (referred to as HPS – human presence sensors – in the Chromium Repositories), it is unclear exactly what Google plans on doing with this new tech.

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Thanks to some digging by 9to5 Google, it’s at least clear that there are a few changes to the UI that will accompany this change, including an eye-shaped icon in the system tray when the hardware detects a human is interacting with the device. Likely, the most notable version of this you’ve seen is used for Windows Hello where the lock screen has an eye-shaped icon that blinks at you when it is looking for your face or eyes to unlock the laptop. While this is one of the uses that would be very welcome, there are other, simpler uses for HPS that I could see coming online sooner than later.

Detecting human presence

First and probably most useful would be your Chromebook gaining the ability to detect if you are in front of it or not. If this new HPS could signal Chrome OS that you’ve left your device and simply lock it, that would be incredibly helpful. Additionally, this same sensor could quickly detect that you’ve returned, light up the screen, and prep the device for whatever login process it can handle.

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Additionally, this same thinking could apply to screen dimming and screen timeout. If your Chromebook screen timeout is set to a low number, the HPS could keep the screen on even when you aren’t clicking buttons, typing on the keyboard or touching the screen.

Additionally, Google Assistant and other Google apps could get far more interactive with HPS, too. Think of the Nest Hub Max and the way it can identify the user standing in front of it for things like calendar appointments and personalized Google Assistant queries. With HPS, the door opens to Chromebooks getting these same abilities.

Obviously, a huge new feature using this tech would be the ability for your Chromebook to see your face and unlock simply based on that. The simpler version of this would be what Windows Hello uses with a combo of front facing camera info and IR retinal scanners, but this could also open the door for proper 3D facial recognition as well like we see on the Pixel 4 and iPhones. For now, there’s no solid evidence pointing in that direction just yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen on a device in the future.

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HPS has only really been in the works since April of this year, so there’s likely a lot of work left to do. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this as time goes by. For now, it is being tested on ‘Zork’ and ‘Volteer’ boards (current Ryzen AMD devices and 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake devices), so we have some places to keep our eyes set on. So much is still yet to be seen on this, but it’s exciting for sure. Be sure you are subscribed below so you don’t miss out!

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