New Software Allows Smartphones To Sense Pressure


New software that was developed by the University of Michigan engineers may allow your future cell phone to sense pressure on both its screen and its body. This new device, known as a ForcePhone will allow people to control their mobile phones in a whole new way. The software was partially inspired by a Batman movie.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to call 911 by squeezing your phone in a specific pattern and using a completely different pattern to turn on your music. The software may also let users apply additional force in order to unlock a menu of options, very similar to right clicking with your computer mouse. This would be an improvement to similar technologies offered by phones such as the iPhone 6, which has a screen that senses force. No phone thus far offers a body that is sensitive to pressure.

Kang Shin and Yu-Chih Tung created the newest system, which Shin explains can be used on any phone, as it does not require a special screen or built in sensors of any kind. Kang says ForcePhone creates a bigger vocabulary between the phone and the user.

Tung says the interface is natural, much how it is to turn a knob and is the next step forward from a basic touch interface. This technology will compliment other gestured communications as well as voice commands. ForcePhone works by using two of a cell phone’s features, the microphone and speakers. The software makes the speakers emit a tone which is not audible to the human ear. The microphone on the Smartphone is able to pick up the vibration of the sound. When pressure is applied to the screen or body of the phone, this tone changes. When the phone’s microphone picks up on this change, the software translates pressure changes into direct commands.

Tung says while applying expensive and bulky sensors to Smartphones can solve the same problems, the cost would go up so much that manufacturers would not be interested in using the technology. The sound solution can fill the gap, allowing people to enjoy the new functionality without any hardware changes required, just a simple software update.

The idea of harnessing a phone’s microphone and speaker for such a reason came to Tung from the 2008 Batman film, The Dark Knight. The movie shows Batman transforming all of the Smartphones in the city into a sonar system as high-frequency audio signals bounce throughout the city’s infrastructure. This technology is used to track down criminals. Tung thought the idea was interesting to be able to turn Smartphones into sonar-based systems and thought it would potentially lead to new applications that Smarphone users have been asking for.

Tun and Shin also created something known as BumpAlart, which is an Android application that lets users know when there are objects in their path. EchoTag was also created by the team, which lets phone users tag indoor destinations and associate those specific places with different tasks or phone modes.

BumpAlert uses the speaker and microphone of your cell phone to build an acoustic detector. The accelerometer is used to estimate motion as well as speed, while the rear camera can identify objects that may be of danger to the pedestrian. Warnings come in the form of vibrations. EchoTag sends out tones that are again inaudible, and tracks how they are reflected back. It may be used to turn on your alarm clock when you reach your bedroom or go into silent mode when you get to a local movie theatre.

BumpAlert and EchoTag use sonar to build new applications for Smartphones and ForcePhone creates a more useful application for core cell phone interactions.