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Elliptic Labs, whose specialty is ultrasound sensing, isn’t exactly sold on the future of gesture controls that must be triggered by prescribed motions. At Elliptic Labs, “we know gestures,” said Elliptic vice president Strutt. “Gesture controls don’t go anywhere.”

Elliptic Labs is known as a developer of ultrasound sensing software designed to run on such hardware—already incorporated in smartphones—as Qualcomm Hexagon, DSPs by MediaTek and Cirrus Logic. Last fall, Xiaomi MIX Phone became the first smartphone to leverage Elliptic’s ultrasound proximity software, effectively getting rid of an infrared hardware proximity sensor which used to be placed at the top of the smartphone, explained Strutt.

EllipticLab proximity sensor 01 (cr) Figure 1: When a user brings his hand closer the display, a notifications pops up on the screen of a smartphone which uses Elliptic Labs' ultrasonic presence detection technology. (Source: EE Times)

Elliptic Labs isn’t designed to enable more elaborate gesture control, though. The company is focused on using ultrasound to detect motion and distance between a user and a smartphone. It turns off the screen and disables the touch function when a user holds the device close to his face, preventing the user’s ear or cheek from accidentally dialling numbers. When a user brings his hand closer the display, a notifications pops up on the screen.

Elliptic Labs firmly believes such simpler, proximity-based sensing is more easily understood. Further, its ability to run ultrasound sensing software by reusing hardware already existing inside a smartphone allows system designers to free up the space and save the cost of adding the infrared hardware, explained Strutt.

The biggest problem in current generations of gesture controls is, Strutt said, that they are not natural. “A lot of times, it’s much easier for a user to get close to a home device (i.e. a smart speaker), reach out to a knob and turn off the volume,” he explained.

ChirpC CEO Michelle Kiang also discussed the potential of replacing infrared with ultrasound in smartphones. But considering how cheap the infrared proximity sensor already is, Kiang believes ultrasound ToF sensors should be best pitched for system designers looking to add other features such as autofocus for selfies or offering simple gesture functions to smartphones.

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