New ultrasound tech can make virtually any surface touch-sensitive
A new type of ultrasound technology promises to make a touch-sensitive surface out of just about any common material – metal, glass, wood, plastic – which could open up a number of new ways to interact with our gadgets.
UltraSense Systems, the company behind the tech, says its ultrasound system-on-a-chip (about the size of a pen tip) is cost-effective, ready to be incorporated into consumer devices in 2020, and potentially able to create a "paradigm shift" for touch interfaces.
In practical terms, think phones without physical buttons but rather touch-sensitive panels built into the casing, or a desk with "hot spots" you can press to turn on lights or change the angle of the workspace.
These ultrasound chips – essentially using tiny sound waves to detect the presence of a finger press – can work through any thickness of material, according to UltraSense Systems, and aren't put off by moisture, dirt, oils or lotions.
"We have seen a shift in the way we interact with our devices, where digital has replaced mechanical, and the move to virtual buttons and surface gestures is accelerating," Mo Maghsoudnia, the founder and CEO of UltraSense Systems, said in a press statement. "The use of ultrasound in touch user interfaces has not been implemented in such a novel way until now."
Touch interfaces could be easily added to smartwatches and AR/VR gear, the manufacturer suggests, or they could be used to enable one-touch access to a car – you just press against the handle and away you go. Touch-sensitive buttons could also be built into steering wheels inside vehicles.
The sensors developed by UltraSense Systems can operate with very little power draw and without putting demands on a separate processor, the manufacturer says. They can also work if users are wearing gloves or if gadgets are covered up, apparently, and they're able to detect the force of a press too.
UltraSense Systems has only just announced itself to the world, and so it's early days for predicting exactly how this sort of technology is going to affect the devices we use every day. But it certainly gives phone, tablet and laptop makes some more options.
A similar sort of technology is used in ultrasonic fingerprint sensors like those fitted in the Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy Note 10 from Samsung, though in the case of those phones, the ultrasonic scans are used to map out the contours of a fingerprint as well as detecting a press on the glass of the display.
Source: UltraSense Systems