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Tap Tech Brings Touch To Dumb Phones

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the now-that's-clever dept.

Input Devices 70

nk497 writes "A Cambridge-based firm has come up with a way to bring touch interfaces to phones without touchscreens. According to TouchDevice, the system uses the microphone to turn any surface on a handset into a touch-sensitive input panel by analysing sound signatures. 'For example, where icons are displayed on a non-touch screen display, you could tap on there and it would activate the application,' said founder Mike Bradley. TouchDevice believes there are two markets for the technology: firstly to augment input potential in touchcreen smartphones, and secondly as a way of adding touch to 'dumb' displays. The system should be making its way into devices by early next year."

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70 comments

A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (3, Interesting)

Kenja (541830) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540450)

Cant wait to see the 10$ iPhony cell phones that use this rather then an actual touch screen.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (0, Troll)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540560)

Who cars if it works as well and is cheaper? If it does work as well and is cheaper, expect to see Apple adopt it.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1, Funny)

Anomalyx (1731404) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540676)

If it doesn't work as well and is more expensive, expect to see Apple adopt it.

Fixed that for ya

Hey, it's the same thing they did with the antenna...

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1, Insightful)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#33542442)

Posts about modding is a call to be modded down, but here I go anyway:
That was not Flaimbait. If you go around modding any post that pokes fun at a brand as "Flaimbait", you'll turn Slashdot comment threads into humorless, boring lists of generic observations. You may not agree with the logic of the post, but as the popular sig goes -- "there's no -1 'disagree' mod". Maybe there was some intention of "bating flame", but implying that Apple's response to the antenna problem was, in part, motivated by financial considerations, isn't the type of inflammatory content that the "Flamebait" mod was intended for.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (0, Flamebait)

jo42 (227475) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541680)

Who cares if it works as well and is cheaper?

Because it don't work worth a shite. Learn about technology and how it works before you spout such idiocy.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33541810)

So which part of the word "if" didn't you understand, sparky?

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33542610)

Because it won't work as well. It might work well enough for some people, but it most certainly will not work the same.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1)

pwnies (1034518) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540836)

Wont happen - while you can detect a touch action, you can't place the location of that touch. So if you were to have a dialer application, you could distinguish a button press but not which button it actually was. Even for knockoffs this is unacceptable.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (3, Interesting)

lalena (1221394) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541176)

Companies (Elo Acustic Pulse Recognition [elotouch.com] ) are already using this technology. They can detect the location of the touch, and they do an OK job with finger drag. They cannot detect when you take your finger off the surface.
If these limitations are OK, they you get a cheap touch screen that lets you use a scratch resistant glass surface.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#33542464)

Yes, but they sell you the microphone as well. I haven't gone through the specs, but I'm assuming there's more than one microphone in that system, and they're of a higher quality than what you'd find in a phone. Cell/smartphones aren't known for quality microphones, and at a certain price point the microphone itself (if it *is* high quality) will make the approach too expensive. I'm also skeptical of both the accuracy and resolution of the location information that they do manage to get out of a single microphone, of any quality.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1)

emj (15659) | more than 3 years ago | (#33543396)

I tried this on Rockbox devices and it seemed to work I never did positioning but I tapping was easy. If you listen to the sounds that are recorded when you touch different parts of the device you can hear the difference between four extreme points on the device. The theory behind it is a bit beyond my allotted skill/time though.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1)

anguirus.x (1463871) | more than 3 years ago | (#33544762)

What if I'm trying to use it at the ball game? What about in the food court? In other words, what are the limitations introduced by background noise?

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1)

oldmac31310 (1845668) | more than 3 years ago | (#33551168)

Wait until you get back to your mom's basement where there is no background noise!

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (4, Funny)

Jurily (900488) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540974)

Cant wait to see the 10$ iPhony cell phones that use this rather then an actual touch screen.

Could we just let the whole touchscreen idea die instead? Please?

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33542794)

Seriously. When I bought my last phone, I specifically looked for one without a touchscreen. I just find them a poor input method and annoying to use.

It's funny how this article tries to paint any non-touchscreen phone as "dumb". My phone calls, texts, browses, plays music/video/games and runs Linux. It has better build quality than an iPhone, has wifi, bluetooth, a good 5MP camera (comparable to an average digital camera) and a fast CPU, but has no touchscreen. How is that not considered a smartphone?

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1)

Derf the (610150) | more than 3 years ago | (#33543214)

Make & model or it didn't happen.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (1)

plumby (179557) | more than 3 years ago | (#33543968)

Why? For most things, it's a far better input method than anything else out there.

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (2, Funny)

shri (17709) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541604)

And I cant wait to see what happens to those iPhonys at a Stomp concert. :)

Re:A boon for the touch phone knock off makers. (2, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33543592)

Why just phones? I'd like this tech on my netbook. I hope it's open source; I'd install it on my netbook - at least if it works better than the speech recognition. But it seems it may have the same drawback, which is any sound confuses the speech engine. I'll bet this won't work anywhere there are percussive sounds; it has to be pretty damned quiet for the speech engine to work.

Doomed to fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33540468)

Too much ambient noise for many.

Sounds flakey (1, Insightful)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540478)

Works great, unless:

Your in a loud room.
Your tap is outside "normal" strength range
You are wearing gloves.
You tap with your fingernail, pen, etc

Just sounds like a hack to me, maybe Ok for Yes/No interactions, but I thought that was what the normal buttons are for...

Re:Sounds flakey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33540540)

Note that many of these scenarios don't work for the iPhone touch screen either (fingernail, pen, and gloves all fail).

But I agree it sounds flaky.

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540664)

What is ti with people like you? you don't know anything about it, but that doesn't top you from listing a bunch of made up issues.

"Your in a loud room." Yep it works in a load room.

"Your tap is outside "normal" strength range"
WTH does that even mean. outside what range? screen range? sound volume?

"You are wearing gloves." maybe it does.

"You tap with your fingernail, pen, etc" - yes it does work under those conditions.

http://crave.cnet.co.uk/mobiles/touchdevice-software-makes-dumb-phones-touch-sensitive-50000706/ [cnet.co.uk]
and
http://www.inputdynamics.com/Products.html [inputdynamics.com]

Plus it can be used anywhere on the phone. Good luck operating your iPhone touch screen from the back.

Sure, it might turn out to be crap, but that's doesn't give your point any merits on the known facts. And if it does turn out your right, it will just be th sharpshooter fallacy. Unless you want to back up your claim with actual facts?

Re:Sounds flakey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33540986)

It's called skepticism. When you've seen enough "good ideas" fail in the real world, you start to see through the hype.

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

iamhassi (659463) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541774)

"Sure, it might turn out to be crap, but that's doesn't give your point any merits on the known facts. "

Maybe you should read the articles you're linking to:
http://crave.cnet.co.uk/mobiles/touchdevice-software-makes-dumb-phones-touch-sensitive-50000706/ [cnet.co.uk]
"InputDynamics says the software can recognise a tap anywhere on a phone's surface to with 1cm square. "

1 cm might not sound like a lot, but when you're talking about ~4" diagonal screen and using your finger being off by 0.4 inches is huge.

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 3 years ago | (#33542552)

Plus it can be used anywhere on the phone. Good luck operating your iPhone touch screen from the back.

Great! I've always wanted to dial the wrong number!

Re:Sounds flakey (3, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540990)

You are wearing gloves.
You tap with your fingernail, pen, etc

er... these also don't even work on state of the art touch devices -- androids / iphones / blackberries. Go ahead... try using your iphone with mittens on, or tap one with your fingernail.

So I guess modern smartphones are just a hack to you?

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 3 years ago | (#33542090)

If tapping with a fingernail does not work, then most likely using a stylus won't work either. Which means that the screen will always be full of fingerprints and smudges, unless I wash my hands every time I want to do something with the phone.

I have a Psion Series 5 PDA, made in 1997 and it works with a stylus. Interesting how people in 1997 knew that fingerprints on the screen = bad, but now they don't.

OK, I'm keeping my Nokia N93 (keypad ftw).

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33542570)

I never notice smudges on my iPhone unless the screen is turned off. It's a non issue.

Re:Sounds flakey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33545938)

Wiping down the screen when you're done with it is much less annoying than not being able to use your phone until you've pulled out the stylus.

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 3 years ago | (#33547046)

Except that you can use the phone even without the stylus, just that you will leave smudges and fingerprints. So with the Psion Series 5 I had a choice - use a stylus or some other pointed plastic object or just use my fingernail or finger and leave residue on the screen.

Psion also had another thing right - the device uses AA batteries, which can be rechargeable or primary. So if the batteries discharged while I was away from an outlet I could just buy some cheap primary ones. Too bad it was not possible to recharge the batteries while they were in the device, but it's much better than my phone or new PDAs have - expensive proprietary batteries.

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

404 Clue Not Found (763556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33546948)

Many touchscreens these days use oleophobic coatings. Smudges aren't as big an issue as they used to be.

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

dandart (1274360) | more than 3 years ago | (#33543878)

Haven't you heard of GlovePod? Or perhaps... resistive touchscreens, like the DS?

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#33542498)

Your in a loud room.
Your tap is outside "normal" strength range

I was expecting to see grammar nazis on the case, but since they seem to be on a break, I'll cover this:
YOU'RE == YOU ARE && YOU'RE != YOUR.

Re:Sounds flakey (1)

ooshna (1654125) | more than 3 years ago | (#33544044)

Isn't being a grammar Nazi with the name Goldstein like being a living oxymoron?

Sounds like a dump idea at first... (2, Insightful)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540552)

But with multiple microphones, sounds will come in out of phase. It should be possible to compute the delay time of the signal coming in on each microphone, which when combined with knowledge of the speed of sound should allow it triangulate the position of the tap. Yes, with a single microphone, this would be an abhorrent kludge. With multiple microphones, it works like the audio gunshot detection systems already in use in some cities.

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (3, Informative)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541050)

TFA talks about doing this with exactly one pre-existing microphone, which is rather unique.

Triangulating touch position using multiple "microphones" (in this case, peizoelectric widgets mounted to the glass surface, but the concept is the same) has been done before, and isn't particularly new. (More info and whitepaper [elotouch.com] .)

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 3 years ago | (#33542532)

TFA talks about doing this with exactly one pre-existing microphone

Which makes me doubt the idea. Are all microphones in smartphones created equal? Will the ones installed in most devices be good enough for the job? Microphones "degrade" (they deform slowly) with use -- can you recalibrate the software, and how often will you need to do so? After filtering out all of the noise, and then attempting to infer the touch location, will you have any CPU power left to actually perform the task that the touch was intended to do (and what about on devices with less computing power)?

To many variables. Pics or it didn't happen.

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (1)

rvw (755107) | more than 3 years ago | (#33545896)

TFA talks about doing this with exactly one pre-existing microphone

Which makes me doubt the idea. Are all microphones in smartphones created equal? Will the ones installed in most devices be good enough for the job? Microphones "degrade" (they deform slowly) with use -- can you recalibrate the software, and how often will you need to do so? After filtering out all of the noise, and then attempting to infer the touch location, will you have any CPU power left to actually perform the task that the touch was intended to do (and what about on devices with less computing power)?

Maybe the tapping makes a different sound based on where you tap. So the right side of the screen would sound different than the left. And of course the device would need a teaching system, like with voice recognition. You cannot expect that a plastic Samsung sounds the same as a aluminium Nokia.

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#33547040)

Maybe you two should go read TFA. And then, maybe, you wouldn't have so much uncertainty about what is being claimed to have been accomplished.

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (1)

feedayeen (1322473) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541086)

But with multiple microphones, sounds will come in out of phase. It should be possible to compute the delay time of the signal coming in on each microphone, which when combined with knowledge of the speed of sound should allow it triangulate the position of the tap. Yes, with a single microphone, this would be an abhorrent kludge. With multiple microphones, it works like the audio gunshot detection systems already in use in some cities.

Sound can travel in excess of 500m/s while it is going though solids. To compute the position to within 1mm, the microphone will need to have a precision of 1/500,000th of a second. Audio quality in commercial microphones tends to peak at a few KHz so this is still impossible.

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (3, Insightful)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541278)

I suspect it doesn't use time delays, but just the difference in the audio spectra between tapping in the corner close to the mic, tapping in the middle, and tapping in the opposite corner. Different frequencies will resonate and/or be attenuated depending on where you tap. Have you ever played a guitar and noticed how the sound (timbre) changes depending on whether you pluck the string over the neck, over the sound hole, or close to the bridge? Same idea here, I imagine, just using a cell phone as the resonator instead of a guitar.

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (1)

quickOnTheUptake (1450889) | more than 3 years ago | (#33545480)

You are right. Using sound delay would be retarded and require several mics.
Oh and it's in the 3rd paragraph of TFA:

“What we're doing is using the existing microphone to detect sounds - the different areas of a phone have a unique sound signature,” said Mike Bradley, founder of TouchDevice.

GP is talking out his ass.

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (1)

quickOnTheUptake (1450889) | more than 3 years ago | (#33545500)

Okay, take back the last bit. I need to pay more attention to context.

Re:Sounds like a dump idea at first... (1)

malignant_minded (884324) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541190)

I'm sure it works great as the subway passes by

New excuse for drunk-dialing your ex... (3, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540578)

"I dropped my phone, and the microphone-based touch detection interpreted as calling your number!"

directional speaker + clever tapping = (1)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540602)

someone getting goatse'd from across the room. Ouch.

Other aplications (2, Interesting)

He who knows (1376995) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540642)

It seems like this can be aplied to computer moniters quite easilly. I would like a cheap touch screen laptop.

Re:Other aplications (1)

pastyM (1580389) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541002)

yeah i would love to see some open source project bring this to PC/Laptops

Re:Other aplications (1)

rm999 (775449) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541738)

Touch screens are actually pretty cheap. The iphone's is 10 dollars, but I would imagine you could get a larger, less precise one for the same price or cheaper. Even the 35 dollar Indian tablet has a touch screen.

neat but no. (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540702)

last thing I want to do, if I have to go back to a dumb phone, is to get into a heated argument and have it detect me screaming as a sign to hang up.

Yeah, but, no.

Re:neat but no. (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540784)

how about if it detects you screaming it dials your psychiatrist?

If you are screaming in an argument, then you have already lost.

Re:neat but no. (4, Funny)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540878)

If you are screaming in an argument, then you have already lost.

NOT TRUE!!! SCREAMING IN AN ARGUMENT MAKES YOU MORE RIGHT!!!

(This bit down here is to appease /.'s filters, as it thinks I'm yelling...no sense of humor at all.)

Re:neat but no. (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541396)

I find your name fascinating.

Re:neat but no. (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 3 years ago | (#33543350)

NOT TRUE!!! SCREAMING IN AN ARGUMENT MAKES YOU MORE RIGHT!!!

<Morbo> ARGUMENTS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!

(This bit down here is to appease /.'s filters, as it thinks I'm yelling...no sense of humor at all.)

I should have waited... (2, Funny)

gsarig (1650633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540774)

2 weeks ago I said goodbye to my 4 year old Sony Ericcsson K750i, and bought an iPhone... If I knew about that device, I would have waited... :P

The iPhone (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33540786)

already has one, how much more stupid can a phone get??

Non-touch != dumbphone (1)

Steve Max (1235710) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540822)

Why do people keep making this association? Most smartphones out there are non-touch Symbian phones [gsmarena.com] , and many touchscreen phones are as dumb as it gets [gsmarena.com] .

Simple question (1)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 3 years ago | (#33540994)

Wouldn't a dumb phone be pretty useless?

Almost as bad as a deaf phone.

Re:Simple question (1)

tacarat (696339) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541022)

Better a dumb phone than a dumb phoner.

Re:Simple question (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541572)

One less button...no mute needed.

The original research (1)

kescom (45565) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541516)

The market for this? (1)

billsayswow (1681722) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541652)

How many phones out there are capable of integrating this into their firmware, download the software to begin with, yet don't have touchscreens, all while still being in service. I just don't see any situation where a phone doesn't have a touch screen, yet would be enhanced by one. Aside from maybe older keyboard based phones, like earlier Blackberries... but that still leaves the question of getting it in and having it be worthwhile.

This says nothing, of course, about the user themselves. Even if you could get it implemented, most people who don't have a touchscreen don't really want one, or are planning on getting a new phone soon enough.

Of course, there still will be plenty of people who this won't help at all who will get this anyways. It will be like 3D movies. Not everything was meant to be in 3D, but people will still go to the 3D showing by the truckload.

Not really dumb (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33541916)

If a phone is equipped with the hardware and firmware to detect taps and touches on the screen, its not dumb. Its just a touch screen with different technology.

'Dumb' would be a phone with a dial on it. You kids remember dials, don't you? That's what you hear clicking '9-1-1' every time you step on my lawn!

Ramifications (2, Interesting)

TheCouchPotatoFamine (628797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33542212)

Lets think this through, using some out there guessing as to what this is/can do: Microphones on the inside of the case don't require an external sound port, and can actually be conducted onto the plastic case itself. Good: The magnitude of a direct finger tap opposed to an external click or thump filters out error from the environment. Good: Multi touch may not be perfectly possible with two mics but it is using three mics; gives you triangulation, makes simultaneous events seperable. Anyone want to make the case two mics is practical for that? Bad: Can't detect dragging. Good: cell phones are an exception to this, but music players and other digital devices can now be waterproof easily, if induction charging and wifi are used so that a simple gasket can be used to seal it What did I miss?

What about combination with other tech? (1)

bemymonkey (1244086) | more than 3 years ago | (#33543102)

I'm sure this could be useful for making, say, crappy capacitive screens like the ones on the iPhone (yeah, I said it! :p) and Android phones more accurate... not just as a standalone technology.

Same as Carnegie Mellon invention from 2008? (1)

Moskit (32486) | more than 3 years ago | (#33543548)

Apparently it is the same concept as covered two years ago in this article:
http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/11/15/175246 [slashdot.org]

I wonder if university had any patent and sold it to this company, or it was a parallel invention.

Ambient noise? (1)

ksandom (718283) | more than 3 years ago | (#33544602)

I'm curious how well it works in ambient noise. From the looks of the comments I've read here, quite possibly well...

It's also interesting to note that a number of users have mentioned that if it uses multiple microphones then_____. The article talks of using one, and using a "set of signatures". It's basically working by listening to how the tap sounds on one part of the phone compared to another part. While the structure of the shell will play a small role in this, mostly it will be influenced by the electronics inside the phone since they are generally not symetrical. However, the caseings could be specifically made to optimise the process. Say by having I think slanted layer of air in the LCD protector, or putting extra knobs of plastic inside the casing.

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