ForcePhone uses sonar to add 3D Touch-like system to practically any phone

forcephone university michigan 3d touch smartphones force phone
Over the past few months, Apple, Huawei, ZTE, and others have made splashes in the smartphone world with tech accurate enough to measure the amount of downward force on a screen, or “force touch,” as the capability’s become known.

Only a select few new phones sport it — short of a significant amount of soldering, older handsets can’t be retrofitted with the combo of sensors and motors required. But researchers at the University of Michigan may have discovered a low-cost, easy solution: a 3D Touch-like system of feedback that’s adaptable to practically any smartphone, recognizes when weight’s being applied to the touchscreen, and that can even tell when the phone’s being squeezed.

It sounds miraculous at first, but the engineers’ software prototype, ForcePhone, is grounded in clever audiology. Once booted, the app generates a constant, 18 kHz tone inaudible to human ears that the phone emits through its speakers. When force is applied to the phone’s touchscreen with a finger or object, the resulting acoustic shift — a nearly microscopic expansion and contraction of the tiny, cavernous spaces within the handset’s housing — alter the tonal frequency. The phone’s microphone picks up those changes, and ForcePhone translates them into commands that apps and games can interpret. It’s essentially sonar.

The squeeze of a hand could flip an eBook’s pages, for example, or pop open a previously hidden menu of options. And sequential squeezes could trigger preprogrammed applications, alarms, and other routines.

“You don’t need a special screen or built-in sensors to do this. Now, this functionality can be realized on any phone” said Kang Shin, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and project lead on ForcePhone. “We’ve augmented the user interface without requiring any special built-in sensors.”

Shin, much like Apple, Huawei, and others, see force touch as a paradigm shift in interactivity.

“I think we’re offering a natural interface, like how you turn a knob,” said Yu Chih Tung, a doctoral student in the University of Michigan’s computer science program who partnered with Shin to create ForcePhone. “It’s the next step forward from a basic touch interface, and it can complement other gestured communication channels and voice.”

ForcePhone’s still in the experimental stages, but Shin and Tung plan to present an update at a conference in Singapore in late June. Here’s hoping that phone manufacturers take notice.

Mobile

T-Mobile's new Revvl 2, Revvl 2 Plus are now available for purchase

Last year, T-Mobile launched its own line of branded smartphones. As a follow-up to their predecessors, the carrier has unveiled the Revvl 2 and Revvl 2 Plus -- complete with a sleeker design. Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

Need a quick battery boost? Try one of our favorite portable chargers

Battery life still tops the polls when it comes to smartphone concerns. If it’s bugging you, then maybe it’s time to snag yourself a portable charger. Here are our picks of the best portable chargers.
Home Theater

Put your home theater to the test with these spectacular Blu-ray releases

What's the point of having all of that awesome home theater gear if you can't breed a little jealousy in your friends and family? We've put together this list of fantastic Blu-rays that have the goods to drop a few jaws.
Computing

These laptop bags will keep your notebook secure wherever you go

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.
Mobile

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, with each suited for a different occasion.
Mobile

How to take great photos with the Pixel 3, the best camera phone around

You’ve scored yourself a new Google Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, and you want to take advantage of that incredible camera. We’ve got everything you need to know right here about how to snap the best photos with your Pixel 3.
Wearables

Google's Wear OS update 'H' promises battery life improvements

Google has rebranded its Android Wear operating system to Wear OS. Removing the Android name may help people better understand Google-powered smartwatches, which also play nice with iOS devices. 
Smart Home

Huawei could soon take on Google and Amazon with a new digital assistant

According to a report from CNBC, Huawei is working on a new digital assistant that could try to take on the likes of Google and Amazon's Alexa. Huawei already has a digital assistant in China, but the new one will be aimed at markets…
Mobile

Leak shows a third, budget Google Pixel 3 with a Snapdragon 670, headphone jack

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a third. A budget Pixel 3 device that boasts some of the best features of the other two has been leaked.
Mobile

Use multiple phone numbers on one device with Verizon’s ‘My Numbers’ app

For those who have separate phone numbers and devices for your work and personal lives, Verizon wants to help you get more organized. With its new "My Numbers" app, you can use up to four additional phone numbers on a single smartphone.
Mobile

Instagram tool accidentally exposes user passwords. Were you affected?

Instagram's Download Your Data tool accidentally exposed the passwords of a small number of users. Here is the explanation on what happened, and how to find out which Instagram accounts were compromised.
Mobile

New iPad Pro’s durability in question after it fails YouTuber’s bend test

The new iPad Pro models failed a bend test that was carried out by popular YouTuber JerryRigEverything. The result raises questions about the durability of the tablets, especially since customers are also reporting bending issues.
Mobile

How to use recovery mode to fix your Android phone or tablet

If you’re having a problem you can’t seem to resolve with your Android device, or maybe you want to update it or wipe the cache, recovery mode could be what you’re looking for. Here's how to use it.
Deals

Black Friday 2018: The best deals so far

Black Friday is the biggest shopping holiday of the year, and it will be here before you know it. If you can't wait until November 23 to start formulating a shopping plan, we've got you covered.