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Ultrasonic MEMS controller enables touchless device control

Posted: 19 Jun 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Knowles  MEMS  ultrasonics  mobile device  microphone 

Knowles Corp. is set to unleash what it says is the first MEMS microphone intended for accurate ultrasonic finger tracking. According to the company, the release of the world's first digital ultrasonic MEMS mic will change the way we interact with our mobile devices. Later this year, advanced models will be shown that enable the user to control on-screen actions by waving, pointing and moulding on-screen images like clay.

The ultrasonic field at 80kHz will extend in 3D both above and beside the screen so that users no longer have to cover-up the screen items they are controlling with their fingers.

"Ultrasonics offers a broader space of control and command than touch alone, it covers a lot wider space above the device than just the size of the screen, so your hand is not always obscuring your view of the screen. Also you can define new gestures such as moving your hand from bottom to top to move to the next line, or moving from side to side to bring up and adjacent screen," Thibault Kassir, senior director, product management, mobile consumer electronics, Knowles. "The other advantage of ultrasonics is the 3D depth-effect. You can define algorithms to use 3D for control: for instance to zoom in or out by bringing your hand closer or further away from the screen."

Ultrasonic MEMS controller

Knowles' SPH0641LU4H-1 measures 3.50 x 2.65 x 0.98mm making it small enough to use multiple units around the screen. You need at least three to triangulate the position of a finger and as many as five to take full advantage of the touchless control possibilities.

"Depending on the precision needed for an application, we've seen applications using as many as five ultrasonic MEMS microphones," Kassir stated. "The ultrasonic microphones can also be used for audio, but it really depends on the use cases. If you are trying to do audio and finger tracking at the same time, it may require you to have additional microphones for audio purposes only. For example, we've seen applications using up to seven microphones, five are ultrasonics and two are just used for audio purposes."

Ultrasonics also can instantly transmit data such as photos from handheld to handheld and track special ultrasonic sensitive styluses with unprecedented accuracy. The ultrasonic microphones already consume three-times less power than other digital microphones, according to Knowles, but also go into an "always on" voice-activated super low-power mode when not in use, then quickly power back up when needed.

The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is 64.3dB(A) with a flat frequency response up to 20kHz. Power consumption: 235uA in low-power mode and sensitivity is matched between units by ±1dB. Mass production of the ultrasonic microphones will begin in 3Q14.

- R. Colin Johnson
  EE Times

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