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Tiny Ultrasound Sensor Could Replace Physical Buttons on Devices

December 30, 2019 by Luke James

UltraSense Systems has launched an ultrasound sensor-on-chip that it claims enables touch sensing through a wide range of materials, including metal, glass, wood, ceramic, and plastic.

UltraSense claims that its new sensor, TouchPoint, and its properties open up a wide range of possibilities, one of which is the possibility of turning any surface into a virtual button, regardless of thickness or material. The company also claims that the miniature ultrasound sensor could make its way into smartphones as early as 2020, transforming the touchscreen market. 


UltraSense’s New Miniature Sensor

Measuring in at just 1.4 x 2.4 x 0.49mm, roughly the size of a pen’s tip, the sensor is able to sense touch and pressure in the presence of moisture, oils, and dirt; as well as on a clean surface. Bringing with it a range of potential industrial applications where touchscreen technology has not yet been practical.

In standby mode, the sensor requires only 20µA and can be integrated with any equipment, regardless of processor, because all algorithms have been built into the sensor itself. 

Mo Maghsoudnia, founder and CEO of UltraSense, said, “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…The use of ultrasound in touch user interfaces has not been implemented in such a novel way until now. Our family of TouchPoint ultrasound sensor solutions enable new use cases that allow OEMs to bring a differentiated user experience with a wider variety of touch and gesture functions under virtually any material and material thickness.”  


The UltraSense sensor.

The UltraSense TouchPoint ultrasound sensor. Image Credit: UltraSense.


Buttonless Smartphones and Other Applications

UltraSense has claimed that their chip can be used for anything from simple tasks, for example, the switching on and off of a device, to the control of a device in its entirely. Then, it is able to handle a multi-functional interface with various gestures and touches. 

The underlying premise of the TouchPoint sensor is to allow manufacturers to develop smartphones that do not require physical, tactile buttons for power and volume on the body of the device. One of the obvious advantages of this is making devices more water-resistant, as the absence of physical buttons means that a device requires zero holes in its body.

As the device has been designed so that the signal diffuses in the air, it cannot be accidentally activated in pockets. UltraSense has yet to address what this means for phone cases, though. 

It is not only smartphones where UltraSense’s sensor has applications. It can also function as a capacitive button on the side of a gaming device, be used for appliances (e.g. medical devices, connected vehicles), or used to place virtual buttons on the side of doors, for example. UltraSense also hopes to ‘conquer’ the automotive market within the next two-to-three years. 

UltraSense TouchPoint has already been tested by smartphone manufacturers and is expected to be demonstrated during CES in January 2020

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