Forget the camera, Elliptic Labs uses sound waves to bring touchless gesturing to Windows 8

elliptic labs windows 8How we interact with our PCs is in flux, and nothing has made that more apparent than Windows 8. The latest iteration of the operating system questions everything we’ve come to know about personal computing, which has won it plenty of advocates as well as enemies.

But a touch-friendly OS isn’t the most innovative thing to happen to the market; in fact, it might be what happens after touchscreens that really revolutionizes our relationship with electronics.

Elliptics Labs is the latest startup to get in on the action with its touchless gesturing technology, which is designed to be compatible with Windows 8 devices. Elliptic Labs uses ultrasound technology to allow users to swipe and pinch away, without so much as brushing a screen.

“Everything is done without touching and there’s no camera involved. It just uses the 3D interaction space around your computer,” chief operating officer Haakon Bryhni tells me. 

Of course, Elliptic Labs isn’t the only one investing in touchless technology. The Leap recently made a hugely lauded debut: The consumer-facing device is a mere $70, can be pre-ordered now, and is a tiny accessory you hook up and put in front of your computer that creates a Kinect-like experience (although it’s many, many times more accurate). And Tobii has pioneered eye-gaze technology, tracking your optical movement to help you control your computer.

But Bryhni points out the core difference his company brings to the table. While most camera-based solutions are constantly at work, their sensors reading pixels and running your battery ragged, Elliptic Labs uses very small sensors placed inside the screen. This sound wave reading technology uses 95 percent less power than camera-based image-gesture products do.

“We use ultrasound while most are using the camera,” he says. “The benefits of ultrasound is that it uses less power, and it works in rooms with too little or too bright of light. You should be able to completely interact with your device no matter where you are. It’s easy to use in all sorts of environments, and you can leave it on all the time and it won’t hurt battery.”

You can see in this demo how accurate and responsive the system is – although, consumers can’t buy this technology; Elliptics Labs is strictly marketing it to OEMs. “We are dependent on the OEMs to add this to their laptops, or tablets or mobile phones,” he adds. “Ultrasound sensors are low cost components and we want to make sure the microphone speaks well into the chipsets and work with the chipset menu. We’ve made it very simple for manufacturers, and they don’t have to make a prototype themselves. We have a starter kit, they can create their own UI using our technology, there’s an SDK as well as a Windows 8 interface, and OEMs can make their own apps using gesture recognition.”

While Elliptic Labs is available for Android tablets and smartphones, the company has seen the opportunity Windows 8 has created. “Trying to use a laptop with Windows 8 … it’s weird to use a mouse and keyboard with it,” says Bryhni. “It’s not really made for that. And you don’t want to touch the screen either, so this makes our technology perfect for Windows 8 laptops.”

“We’ve done some user analysis on random users, and when they are exposed to what we have created, they’re amazing and ask us when they can get this product,” Bryhni says. He also adds that a new generation of users are so accustomed to smartphones and tablets, that this familiarity will translate easily to touchless gestures. “We think the time is completely right to introduce touchless interfaces.”