Mobile phones can sense pressure with this Batman inspired software

A team from the University of Michigan has developed a software alternative to Apple’s Force Touch technology found on the iPhone 6S. The main idea behind the ForcePhone software is adding pressure sensitive capabilities on technically any mobile device, as long as it comes with a microphone and speaker. The new system could give any phone the ability to sense pressure or force on its body or screen without needing any new hardware components.

ForcePhone will rely on your smartphone’s microphone and speaker. The application will emit a sound at 18kHz which is basically inaudible to the human ear, but not too high where your phone’s microphone can’t pick up on it. From there whenever you press your finger against your phone’s screen, the pitch will change and will keep changing depending on how hard you’re pressing.

The smartphone can sense how much pressure is being applied and where. It will work just like Apple’s 3D touch, where capacitive sensors embedded beneath the touchscreen glass sense how much pressure you are applying to the smartphone display. By applying extra pressure to the touchscreen, users can unlock a menu of additional options, similar to right-clicking with a mouse.

Yu-Chih Tung, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan and one of the creators of ForcePhone said, “I think we’re offering a natural interface, like how you turn a knob. It’s the next step forward from a basic touch interface, and it can complement other gestured communication channels and voice.”

Tung also added, “having expensive and bulky sensors installed into smartphones can solve every problem we have solved, but the added cost and laborious installation prevent phone manufacturers from doing it. Our sound-based solution can fill this gap, providing the functionality without making any hardware modification. Everything is just software.”

Tung revealed that, somehow, their creation was partly inspired by The Dark Knight, a Batman movie released in the year 2008. In the said film, Batman transforms all the phones within Gotham City into a sonar system.

The technology allows users to dial their phones or navigate through various menus, without having to slide their fingers on the display, but merely to squeeze the screen in different patterns. The neat thing about ForcePhone is that it could virtually work on any mobile device that has a microphone and speaker.

This software, though, is not ready for public release yet. In any case, this would definitely be a welcome treat for mobile device users. In the near future, even less expensive smartphones will soon have a pressure-sensitive screen and body so users can make commands simply by squeezing or pressing their phones.

The software will be showcased by the team from the University of Michigan, at MobiSys 2016 in Singapore from June 27th to 29th.

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