forcephoneApple’s 3D Touch technology is easily among the most impressive features of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.  In fact, the technology is so impressive  that it may become the gold standard of all smartphones, coming soon to more models. This might include Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, which are Android-based devices.

The new technology might soon make its way into consumer’s hands thanks to a team from the University of Michigan.  This team has develop something they call the ForcePhone app, which uses a device’s microphone and speakers to mimic the capabilities of Apple’s 3D Touch.
Basically, this new technology will instruct the phone to emit an audio signal in the 18-24 kHz range. Sound at this range is inaudible to humans but can be picked up by a microphone.  When you press on the screen, then, or squeeze the phone, it causes the pitch of this sound to change; and the harder you press, the bigger the shift will be in the pitch.  Of course, the microphone detects these shifts and the software will translate the force of the shifts into commands.

It is important to note, too, that the sound the phone makes is only played at a low volume so it won’t even bother other signals or animals (like dogs) which might be able to detect sound that humans cannot.  Perhaps most importantly, though, while this software mimics what 3D Touch can do, the fact that you can squeeze the phone to manipulate the technology could be at a significant over Apple’s patent.

“Having expensive and bulky sensors installed onto smartphones can solve every problem we have solved, but the added cost and laborious installation prevent phone manufacturers from doing it,” explains University of Michigan doctoral student Yu-Chih Tung.  “Our sound-based solution can fill this gap, providing the functionality without making any hardware modification. Everything is just software.”

They got the idea for this, actually, by watching the 2008 Christopher Nolan blockbuster “The Dark Knight.”  In this movie, Batman turns every smartphone in the city into sonar locators so he can track the Joker.

Tung continues, “I thought it was an interesting idea to turn a smartphone into a sonar-based system and felt this could lead to new applications to address challenges faced by smartphone users.”

As with most emerging technology, ForcePhone is nowhere near ready for public consumption yet.  However, the team will demo a prototype at the MobiSys convention next month, in Singapore.

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