FingerIO's finger-wagging sonar controls may make smartwatches more usable in the future

Many of us associate the use of sonar with warships, submarines, and other sea-faring vessels, or with animals like dolphins or bats. However, students at the University of Washington have taken the technology and applied it to a smartphone and smartwatch as an alternative control system. so they can be controlled without touching the screen at all, or even just using a mid-air swipe.

It’s called FingerIO, and by using an active sonar system, any surface around your phone could be used as an extension of the touchscreen, where gestures and traces drawn on them would register on the display. For example, tracing a word on the table top next to your phone, would see that word appear on the screen, even though you’re not directly touching it.

Although any physical surface could be used, the active sonar is strong enough that it could recognize mid-air gestures, and those made through fabric. In a demonstration video, a phone’s volume is raised and lowered using a mid-air gesture when the phone itself is inside a pocket. The same applies for a smartwatch, where gestures made on your arm, or in the air surrounding the device, activate features.

There’s no need for any sensors on your hand, or a special thimble-type finger extension, because FingerIO uses sensors already inside the phone to create the active sonar field. It’s rather simple — the speakers emit inaudible sounds, and echoes are picked up by the dual microphones. Clever modulation then increases the accuracy. The team used a Samsung Galaxy S4 as a test device, and found its audio and microphone setup is good for an average accuracy of 8mm.

Gestures are great, but when they can be made in the general vicinity of a device, there’s a risk of unwanted interaction. To avoid this, FingerIO has a double swipe activation command, made within five centimeters of the device, measuring at least four centimeters for each straight-line swipe. That way, pointing to something in front of you doesn’t suddenly make a call to Uncle Tom.

The group has published a paper on the technology, which points out several drawbacks, including devices requiring a third microphone to enable 3D tracking, and the high power consumption of an always-on sonar system. The test Galaxy S4 lasted for just four hours using the technology. However, it’s early days for FingerIO, and regardless of the current limitations, the active sonar system has been shown to work on an existing smartphone, and a custom-made smartwatch, rather than simply being a concept that may never actually work at all.

Smart Home

Power on and off: Kasa Outdoor Smart Plug by TP-Link brings weatherproof smarts

The Kasa Outdoor Wi-Fi Smart Plug grants remote control of two outlets in an IP-64 weather resistant housing. Simple and straightforward, this smart plug is a great fit for summer lighting.
Gaming

Get in control with some of the best Xbox One gamepads you can get right now

A number of different controllers are available on the Xbox One, from gamepads made by Microsoft, to third-party controllers loaded with special features. Here are the best you can buy.
Deals

Amazon drops prices on special-edition Xbox One wireless controllers

If you're looking for new or replacement controllers for your Xbox One or PC, Amazon has a few deals. Here are the best discounts on special-edition wireless controllers, standard options, and third-party alternatives.
Gaming

The best Switch GameCube controller adapters combine affordability and quality

Thanks to Super Smash Bros., the GameCube controller has remained relevant long past its original console's expiration date. You can use GameCube controllers with just about every game on Nintendo Switch, too. But first you need an adapter.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Wearables

The North Focals smartglasses help you rock out with new Spotify support

The North Focals are a pair of smartglasses with a whole lot to offer. They not only look pretty good, but they allow you to get directions, check upcoming items on your calendar, and more. Here's everything you need to know.
Outdoors

When it's not keeping you dry, Gore wants to keep Silicon Valley innovating

The Gore Innovation Center in Santa Clara, California is designed to help tech start ups to create innovate new products that integrated Gore-Tex fabrics and other materials in wearables, health devices, and more.
Wearables

Army uses modified Microsoft HoloLens 2 for ‘real-life game of Call of Duty’

The U.S. Army gave CNBC an exclusive look at its modified Microsoft HoloLens 2 augmented reality headset. The Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, provides various functions for training and combat.
Wearables

Now is the time to pick up and wear a discounted TicWatch smartwatch

Mobvoi is running a promotion on two of its desirable smartwatches, the TicWatch C2 and the TicWatch Pro, where you can get 20-percent off the usual price. This brings our favorite, the C2, down to just $160.
Wearables

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active vs. Samsung Galaxy Watch: Is more expensive better?

Samsung has finally launched its latest smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active. The device is aimed at sporty people and is clearly well-designed. But is the new device better than Samsung's flagship watch?
Wearables

The ultimate golf watch isn’t a smartwatch. It’s Hublot’s Big Bang Unico Golf

Forget golf smartwatches, the Hublot Big Bang Unico Golf is the ultimate timepiece to wear out on the links. It's the world's first mechanical golf watch, and will keep score for you throughout the game.
Deals

Smartwatch deal: The Apple Watch Series 3 just dropped to $199

Now’s a perfect time to grab the last-gen (but still awesome) Apple Watch Series 3. It's a great wearable for those looking to hop into the world of smartwatches, and this limited-time deal makes the Series 3 even more attractive.
Deals

Apple Watch Series 3, Fitbit Charge 2 see price cuts from Walmart and B&H

Save around $50 on the Fitbit Charge 2 from Amazon and more than $100 on the Apple Watch Series 3 at B&H Photo Video and Walmart. These may be slightly older models, but they're still excellent fitness trackers and smartwatches.
Health & Fitness

From the office to the gym, these are the best smartwatches for fitness

The line between smartwatch and fitness tracker continues to blur. To help narrow the field of the best fitness watches, we sifted through what's available and curated a list of devices worthy of a spot on your wrist.