Skip to main content

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.

Related Videos

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Fitbit recalls Ionic smartwatch after several burn reports
best walmart deals on apple watch garmin and fitbit ionic smartwatch adidas edition ice gray silver

Fitbit Ionic smartwatch users need to stop using their devices right now. The company has recalled its Ionic wearable after over 150 reports of the watch’s lithium-ion battery overheating, and 78 reports of burn injuries to the users. It will offer a refund of $299 to the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch users who return the device.

Fitbit has received at least 115 reports in the United States and over 50 reports internationally about the Ionic smartwatch's battery overheating. It is recalling the device as there are two reports of third-degree burns and four reports of second-degree burns out of the 78 total burn injuries report.

Read more
Razer Anzu smart glasses deal knocks $140 off the price tag
The Razer Anzu smart glasses placed on top of an open book.

While smartwatch deals have slowly claimed their place in the mainstream, smart glasses haven't turned out to be as popular. Gaming-focused brand Razer, however, is trying to renew interest in smart glasses with the Razer Anzu, which you can currently purchase from Best Buy at $140 off. If you'd like to give them a try, they're available for just $60, less than half their original price of $200.

There have been failures like the Google Glass and Snap Spectacles, and hopeful attempts like Oppo's Air Glass and Apple's secretive project, but the Razer Anzu smart glasses take a different spin on the wearable device by designing them for indoors. While they come with polarized sunglass lenses, their clear lenses are more useful with their blue light filter, which protects your eyes from screen glare to prevent discomfort even after hours of playing video games or working from home. The smart glasses, which also have a built-in omnidirectional microphone and speakers, may also be more comfortable to wear for an extended period of time compared to headsets and headphones. You'll enjoy smooth, stutter-free sound with the Razer Anzu's low latency audio with a 60ms Bluetooth connection.

Read more
Best Labor Day Sales 2022: The best early deals to shop today
black friday 2020 deals still available featured resized

Labor Day sales are now in full swing as we head into Labor Day weekend, and they're your last chance to take home clothing, laptops, mattresses, smartphones, televisions, and everything in between on the cheap before Black Friday. Unlike during Cyber Week, the best Labor Day sales only last for one day. When they're over, they're over. Stick with us as we walk you through all of the best Labor Day deals to shop today.

Best Early Labor Day Sales

Read more