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Ultrasound system-on-chip ‘brings any surface to life’

Technology News |
By Rich Pell


Offered as the world’s smallest ultrasound system-on-chip, the technology, says the company, can enable a multi-functional touch interface through virtually any material and any material thickness – including metal, glass, wood, ceramic, and plastic – to cost effectively turn any surface into a virtual button or gesture.

“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,” says Mo Maghsoudnia, founder and CEO, UltraSense Systems. “The use of ultrasound in touch user interfaces has not been implemented in such a novel way until now.”

With its unveiling, the company introduced its family of TouchPoint ultrasound sensors, which are designed to 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. Its TouchPoint solutions, says the company, provide for minimal integration effort and mere seconds of production calibration, allowing for many new use cases such as the following:

  • Removal of mechanical buttons from smartphones to support new industrial designs required for millimeter wave 5G phones
  • One-hand selfie operation with a multi-functional touch user interface on the backside of the smartphone
  • Gaming buttons and photo-taking keys seamlessly built into the sides of smartphones
  • Touch interface or slider in wearable devices like watches, earbuds or AR/VR glasses
  • A new ubiquitous touch user interface across home appliance products that use a variety of thick materials from stainless steel, glass, plastics and ceramics
  • The ability to open or lock your car door with a simple touch of the metal chrome plated door handle
  • Virtual buttons located in the steering wheel center and door panels using solid surfaces that are easy to clean in ride-sharing and shared vehicles

Its product line, says the company, addresses smartphone, consumer/IoT, automotive, and industrial user interface requirements. The TouchPoint family of sensors deliver highly localized touch sensing from thin to thick surfaces with sensors in tiny package sizes that consume only microamps of current in always-on mode.

The sensors are designed to operate independently of a product’s host processor with all the algorithm processing embedded in the sensor. It can be used as a standalone power button, among other uses (volume +/-, shortcut keys, etc.) for wake-on-touch sensing, by powering on the entire product with a simple touch and can be a multi-functional user interface using a series of taps, holds and swipes. The sensors can be directly interfaced with power management and haptic driver ICs.

Using 3D Z-force ultrasound sensing, says the company, provides gram-force measurement in applications that require gloves, external covers/cases, and water/ice rejection. Certain TouchPoint sensors include large drivers with higher operating voltages to transmit the ultrasound beam through very thick materials of solid metal (e.g., >25 mm/1 inch) and beyond. The transducer can also be shut off and the sensor used to drive piezo materials to cost-effectively support large touch sensing areas.

The company says it has released a chip that is about the size of the head of a ballpoint pen that will allow users to tap the frame of a phone rather than mechanical buttons to control volume levels, take pictures, or carry out other functions. The system works regardless of whether the phone frame is made of steel, aluminum, glass, or plastic. The sensors are already sampling and expected to be incorporated into several consumer devices in 2020.

UltraSense Systems

Related articles:
Ultrasonic platform makes any surface and material interactive
iPhone-based “ultrasound on a chip” wins FDA clearance
Ultrasound sensor mass market ‘about to happen’
Ultra-precise ultrasound detector can ‘hear’ bacteria, cells


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