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article imageSoftware update could let your phone sense pressure and squeezes

By James Walker     May 26, 2016 in Technology
When Apple unveiled the iPhone 6, it introduced a new kind of display it calls 3D Touch. 3D Touch displays can sense how hard you press them, letting them respond in different ways. An innovative software update could enable this on any phone though.
As Gizmodo reports, engineers at the University of Michigan have successfully created an implementation of 3D Touch that runs on any phone, whether it be an iPhone or Android device. The software required is demonstrated in a video uploaded to YouTube.
Naturally, your smartphone can't suddenly begin to detect the pressure on a display that doesn't have pressure-sensing tech. The engineers came up with a relatively simple workaround though, letting them replicate the feature on a standard screen.
Their software operates in a similar way to sonar devices. When activated, it uses your phone's speaker to emit a continuous 18kHz sound wave. It is then able to detect changes in the sound wave as you use your phone, interpreting them as taps, presses and squeezes.
The frequency used is beyond the range of human hearing. To the user, there is no change when the feature, known as ForcePhone, is activated. You can employ rich gestures to interact with your phone's interface without worrying about being disturbed by a constant tone.
The University of Michigan s ForcePhone technology being demonstrated. Pressing the display with a h...
The University of Michigan's ForcePhone technology being demonstrated. Pressing the display with a high pressure transfers relatively large, but still minute, forces to the phone, causing modulation in the sound wave and creating the spike on the graph. This is detected by the microphone.
University of Michigan
When you press on the display or squeeze your device, minute forces transferred to the phone modulate the frequency of the sound. ForcePhone is able to detect these changes using the phone's microphone. It then analyses the results to determine what kind of interaction you made. Lighter taps will distort the sound less than heavier ones.
There are a few potential issues with the current implementation. For one, it remains unclear how ForcePhone would respond if multiple devices were being used in the same area, each emitting tones and interfering with each other. Devices may have to be assigned their own frequencies to avoid this problem.
ForcePhone is firmly a research project for now and is won't be making its way to consumer devices anytime in the near future. It's an intriguing look into the future of human interaction methods with computers, even if it is likely to be made redundant before it matures.
There are several indications that Google is building its own version of Apple's 3D Touch for eventual inclusion with Android, encouraging manufacturers to use pressure-sensing displays on many more phones. If this happens, then ForcePhone may never get a chance to trial its software-based approach.
It's worth noting that the University of Michigan's "ForcePhone" is unrelated to a previous project of the same name by Nokia Research. Back in 2012, Nokia developed a prototype pressure-sensing phone that worked in a very different way.
The company added an external resistor that could detect four different pressure levels. It then used the information to send a "hug" to family and friends during Skype calls and phone conversations, making digital communication a little more personal.
More about Apple, 3d touch, Display, Screen, pressure sensing displays
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