Engineers from University of Michigan have developed a Batman-inspired software that can allow users to command their smartphones with sense force or pressure on its screen or body.
ForcePhone offers a new way – like squeezing your smartphone to make a call – to bring pressure-sensitive display technology, similar to the 3D Touch functionality that debuted on the iPhone 6s to any smartphone.
The researchers used ultrasonic waves to replicate the effects of 3D Touch without the need for a special screen technology.
“You do not need a special screen or built-in sensors to do this. Now this functionality can be realised on any phone,” said Kang Shin, professor of computer science in electrical engineering.
“We have augmented the user interface without requiring any special built-in sensors. ForcePhone increases the vocabulary between the phone and the user,” Shin added.
Shin created the system with Yu-Chih Tung, a doctoral student in the same department.
The software could also enable users to push a bit harder on a screen button to unlock a menu of additional options, similar to right-clicking with a mouse.
The ForcePhone software uses a smartphone’s microphone and speaker to emit ultrasound covering the 18-24KHz range. It is beyond the spectrum of frequencies detectable by the human ear, but can be picked up by the phone’s mic (and probably your dog).
“I think we are offering a natural interface, like how you turn a knob. It is the next step forward from a basic touch interface, and it can complement other gestured communication channels and voice,” added Yu-Chih Tung, one of the creators of ForcePhone.
“Having expensive and bulky sensors installed in smartphones can solve every problem we have solved, but the added cost and laborious installation prevent phone manufacturers doing it,” Tung noted.
Tung explained that he was inspired to create ForcePhone after seeing 2008 Batman flick “The Dark Knight”, in which the caped crusader turns all the smartphones in Gotham City into a sonar system as high-frequency audio signals bounce off the city’s infrastructure.
ForcePhone is not ready to be rolled out to consumers just yet but its demo will be given at MobiSys 2016 in Singapore on June 27-29.