Not so long ago, Apple introduced a technology called Force Touch, which basically allows mobile users pressure sensitive interaction with the display screens of their smartphones and tablet devices. This technology (and then 3D Touch) is sort of exclusive to the latest iPhone offerings (the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus), but a similar technology called ForcePhone can be made available to any mobile device out there not built by Apple, well at least according to research conducted by a team of engineers from the University of Michigan.
Whereas Apple’s technology worked by polling sensors in the touch screen, ForcePhone does all of its wonders by way of ultrasound. With ForcePhone, the mobile device’s speaker emits a sound covering the 18 KiloHertz to 24 KiloHertz range. People can not detect sounds within this range, but fortunately, the microphone on handsets do not have this problem. Whenever the mobile user touches the display screen, or even applies pressure to any point in the mobile device’s body, the character of the sound being emitted is altered, and the software detects those specific changes and translates them into commands.
The really cool thing about ForcePhone is that the technology is based on software. This means that it takes advantage of components basically already existing in most mobile devices of today -- speakers and microphones. For phone makers, this means that when adopting this technology, they will not have to replace the parts, they just need to maybe tweak them, and leave them as they are.
As explained by Kang Shin, a professor in the electrical engineering and computer science department of the University of Michigan, pressure sensitivity can be achieved without having to resort to specially designed display screens or integrating built in sensors. Ultrasonics can do an equally effective way of allowing pressure sensitive interaction on mobile devices. Although the level of detail in Apple’s ForceTouch may be peerless, ForcePhone does allow for some variety and flexibility. Hard squeezes or consecutive taps can be processed as efficiently, and gestures can be facilitated.
Interestingly, Shin alongside with his grad student Yu-Chih Tung, were inspired by a movie, specifically Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Near the end of that film, the caped crusader transformed every mobile device in Gotham City into sonic locators, in order to get a bearing on the location of the Joker.
To be clear about it, ForcePhone is still a very new technology. But with some finetuning and testing, it just might give Apple’s ForceTouch and 3D Touch a run for their money.
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