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Amazon will know when its business, privacy practices keep you up at night – it has an FCC-approved sleep radar

Every breath you take, every move you make ...

The FCC has granted Amazon permission to use 60GHz radar in some future device to monitor people’s sleeping habits and sense gesture commands.

Amazon requested a waiver [PDF] from the US communications regulator to build a gadget that emits radar waves and “operates at higher powers than currently allowed” in June. Ronald Rapasi, acting chief of the FCC’s office of engineering and technology, officially approved the request this month.

The mysterious gizmo, referred to as a “radar sensor” in the FCC’s response [PDF], would emit radar waves at frequencies between 57 and 64GHz. It was described as a “non-mobile device” that has to be constantly plugged into a power source to work. Amazon said the sensors would be used to help less physically able users interact with the device through gesture commands, and could promote for “sleep hygiene.”

Pulses of electromagnetic energy emitted from the device ca be used to track motion, Amazon suggested. The data collected by the device could then show users their sleep patterns and quality of their sleep.

“The use of Radar Sensors in sleep tracking could improve awareness and management of sleep hygiene, which in turn could produce significant health benefits for many Americans,” Amazon’s waiver request read.

The FCC's approval stated the device is not allowed to transmit radar waves lasting more than 3.3 milliseconds within a period of 33 milliseconds to prevent it from potentially interrupting other devices also using 60GHz bands. Amazon must also be transparent about the device’s radar capabilities in any product manual.

Rapasi said that the commission felt compelled to grant Amazon the waiver because it approved a similar request from Google for radar to be installed in its Pixel smartphones. "This represents a much narrower setting than that which we authorized in the Google Waiver (i.e., the Google device could be carried by a person and used indoors, outdoors, and onboard commercial aircraft)," he said.

"These characteristics give us added confidence that the analysis we conducted in the Google Waiver is applicable to this situation and that operation of Amazon’s Radar Sensor will not increase the potential for harmful interference to authorized users in the band."

The technical details of Amazon’s so-called radar sensor are slim; it’s not clear if the web giant is planning to add the capability to its products that are already available, such as its Echo family of digital assistants, or if it’ll be a separate gadget altogether.

No one at Amazon was available to comment on the regulator's approval notice, which was first reported by Bloomberg. ®

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