Tiny ultrasound sensor promises new touchscreen tech

The makers of a new miniature ultrasound sensor claim it could make its way into smartphones in 2020, transforming the touchscreen market. 

According to UltraSense Systems, its TouchPoint technology can provide virtually any surface with touch controls, regardless of thickness or material. The sensors measure just 1.4 x 2.4 x 0.49 mm (roughly the size of the tip of a pen) and work with metal, glass, wood, ceramics and plastic. They can sense touch and pressure in the presence of moisture, oils and dirt, opening up industrial applications where touchscreen technology has so far not been practical.  

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“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,” said Mo Maghsoudnia, founder and CEO of UltraSense Systems.

“The use of ultrasound in touch user interfaces has not been implemented in such a novel way until now. Our family of TouchPoint ultrasound sensor solutions 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.”  

The ultrasound system-on-a-chip consists of an integrated circuit with embedded microcontroller, memory and analogue front-end, as well as an ultrasonic transducer in a monolithic silicon die. According to UltraSense, a single sensor can be used to eliminate a mechanical button, while multiple sensors can be used to support surface gestures with sliders and trackpads. They are designed to operate independently of a product’s host processor with all the algorithm processing embedded in the sensor.

“The UltraSense TouchPoint ultrasound sensor is a unique and innovative addition to the list of solutions for user interface capabilities,” said Richard Wawrzyniak, principal market analyst for ASIC &SoC at Semico Research. 

“This gives industrial designers a really useful option to differentiate their products while improving performance without adding to clutter.”