Elliptic Labs gesture controls and presence detection coming to your living room

This story is part of our continuing coverage of CES 2020, including tech and gadgets from the showroom floor.

We’ve seen a number of different Elliptic Labs demos over the last few years, but 2020 could be the year you’ll finally see the technology in a product in your home. As a quick reminder, Elliptic Labs uses ultrasound to enable presence detection and gesture controls. Inaudible ultrasound waves are pushed out by a speaker and the disruption is picked up by microphones, so all the technology requires to work is a device with both, like a phone or a smart speaker.

Elliptic Labs previously integrated its technology in a number of Xiaomi smartphones, so the phone could detect when you reach for it and turn off the screen when you hold it up to your head, instead of relying on a regular proximity sensor.

Elliptic Labs Texas Instruments audio amplifier
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Now the same technology may be coming to a smart speaker, soundbar, or another audio device for your home through a partnership with Texas Instruments which integrated the Elliptic Labs platform into its audio amplifier. Elliptic Labs was also named as a partner of chipmaker MediaTek at CES 2020 as part of its IoT program.

The demo at CES 2020 was a simple one. A speaker was able to detect the presence of a person when they walked up to it and automatically turn on the light next to it. This ability for devices to detect your presence in the home could potentially trigger all sorts of things in the future, but this is also partly about turning things off. Since it knows when you leave a room, it could help save power by turning off lights or perhaps the TV.

There are also safety applications for this technology as it could sense when someone is in a vehicle, ensuring kids aren’t left behind, or detect the lack of movement of an elderly person in the home and trigger some kind of alert.

The idea of ultrasound technology to track presence is also much more palatable than having camera systems in the home, especially in light of the privacy issues surrounding cameras in the home, such as the recent Ring camera hack.

It’s always good to see smart, innovative technology like this progress from early prototype to solid demo and then into an actual product. The TI audio amplifier that supports Elliptic Labs technology is also already out in various products and the ultrasound capabilities can be added with a firmware update. Now it’s down to the manufacturers to decide which features they want and how to employ them. Options range from simple presence detection to waving in the air to skip a track or holding up a hand to pause music.

The system doesn’t require much processing or battery power and can operate through the audio amplifier while the main device processor is in a low power state. We should see the presence detection and gesture controls starting to pop up in products this year.

Elliptic Labs is already working on the next step with radar technology and an idea about developing a visual of the home that would extend to being able to see your heartbeat and potentially warn you of any irregularities.

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