Michigan Engineers Rival iPhone Technology Using Sound Waves


Smartphone technology is constantly evolving. The mobile app industry alone garners $35 billion annually around the globe, and cellular device giants like Apple are always tempting consumers with the newest upgrades in hardware technology. With every release, it seems, customers are forced to either buy the latest gadget or be left behind in the dust of progress.

However, a pair of engineers at the University of Michigan are working to use simple, existing cell phone technology to replicate the newest trends in mobile interface design.

One of the most exciting new features of iPhone's latest release, the 6S, is its 3D Touch technology, which allows the phone to react not only to taps or swipes, but how much force a user applies to the screen. The sensitive response system can be used to enable program application shortcuts or allow for easier text editing, but it requires a special force-sensing screen that's not available on older iPhone models or Android devices.

But with new software from University of Michigan Computer Science Professor Dr. Kang Shin and his doctoral student Yu Chih-Tung, any device with a speaker and microphone could soon boast the same capabilities without the hardware upgrade.

Their "ForcePhone" software programs a cell phone to emit a tone inaudible to humans but strong enough to be picked up by the phone's microphone system. This creates a sonic force field around the device that, when a user presses on the screen, interrupts the vibration signals and can indicate how much pressure is being exerted.

"You don't need a special screen or built-in sensors to do this. Now this functionality can be realized on any phone," Shin said. "We've augmented the user interface without requiring any special built-in sensors. ForcePhone increases the vocabulary between the phone and the user."

"I think we're offering a natural interface, like how you turn a knob," Tung added. "It's the next step forward from a basic touch interface and it can complement other gestured communication channels and voice."

The two will present their software at a mobile systems and applications conference in Singapore later this month.

For full story, pick up a copy of the MONTH XX issue of The Allegan County News/The Union Enterprise/The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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