Batman-Inspired Technology Allows Smartphone Users to Operate Device By Squeezing It


Engineers from the University of Michigan have recently developed new software that could give any smartphone the ability to sense pressure on not only the screen but on the body of the device, as well. They are calling this new development ForcePhone.

The software developers envision a feature that would allow users to dial 911 by squeezing their smartphones in a certain pattern or allow them to turn on music or flip a page on the screen by simply adding a bit of pressure in their palms. Currently, there is no device on the market that has a pressure-sensitive body.

Smartphones typically have a lifespan of only two years, but mobile phone technology is constantly changing and evolving, leading consumers to pursue newer models anyway.

ForcePhone functions using two of the phone’s existing fundamental attributes – its microphone and speaker. The speaker emits an inaudible tone, which the phone’s mic can pick up on based on the vibration caused by the sound. When a user puts pressure on the screen or body of the phone, that force changes the tone, thus causing the software to translate any tone changes into commands.

“You don’t need a special screen or built-in sensors to do this. Now this functionality can be realized on any phone,” said Kang Shin, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan. “We’ve augmented the user interface without requiring any special built-in sensors. ForcePhone increases the vocabulary between the phone and the user.”

“It’s the next step forward from a basic touch interface and it can complement other gestured communication channels and voice,” said Yu-Chih Tung, a doctoral student who collaborated on the project with Shin.

Tung initially came up with the idea of harnessing the phone’s microphone and speaker for other purposes back in 2008 after watching the Batman film, “The Dark Knight.” In the movie, Batman transforms all of the smartphones in the city into a sonar system as high-frequency audio signals bounce off of the city’s infrastructure.

Tung said, “I thought it was an interesting idea to turn smartphones into a sonar-based system and felt this could lead to new applications to address changes faced by smartphone users.”

Shin and Tung will present their software later this month at Singapore’s MobiSys 2016, the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Mobile Systems and Applications Conference.


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