As reported by Android Central, the feature is currently being tested internally. It was discovered by Nest Home hacker Jan Boromeusz, whose Nest Hub Max smart display is running in a “DogFood” mode that allows it to receive non-public builds of software meant for internal use at Google only.
The functionality goes by the codename Blue Steel—some Zoolander fans at Google, it seems. The option allows Boromeusz to speak commands, such as asking for the weather, without saying the “Hey Google” wake word first.
It’s likely Blue Steel makes use of the Nest Hub Max’s ultrasound sensing technology that sends out ultrasonic pulses to detect if anyone is nearby. Ars Technica speculates it could also utilize the front-facing camera, which its “face match” feature uses for identification purposes—having to look at a camera could explain the codename. The smaller Nest Hub doesn’t have a front camera, but the ultrasound sensing could possibly work across other devices, including smart speakers.
Not having to continually yell wake words with the potential to be misheard will be seen as a convenience by many, but the privacy implications are obvious. There’s no mention of when, or even if, Google will roll out this feature, and at least its activation appears optional.