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Disney’s New Acoustruments Uses Ultrasonic Waves To Control Smartphones

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Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research teamed up to build Acoustruments, a device that manipulates sounds from a smartphone’s speaker to allow people to use it as an external controller.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Disney Research have invented a unique type of accessory called ??Acoustruments? for phones and other gadgets. They?ve come up with a way of utilizing ultrasonic waves to make smartphones even smarter.

?Human Factors in Computing Systems?

Acoustruments rely on ultrasound signals produced by the speaker of a phone and detected by its microphone. This innovation is being presented in a research paper published earlier this week and currently demonstrated at the CHI 2015 conference in Seoul, South Korea. It is formally entitled Human Factors in Computing Systems.

What the experts essentially did was take the concept of manipulating sound waves and integrate it into a device with a speaker and mic. In the group?s paper, Acoustruments? official definition reads like this: “low-cost, passive, and powerless mechanisms, made from plastic, that can bring rich, tangible functionality to handheld devices.”

One of the study?s author, Gierad Laput, a Ph.D. student at?CMU?s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), mentioned in a press release on the research, “Using smartphones as computers to control toys, appliances and robots already is a growing trend, particularly in the maker community. Acoustruments can make the interactivity of these new ?pluggable? applications even richer.?

How it works

Researchers from Disney and CMU showcased Acoustruments as a ?smart case? in a video released by Disney Research Hub on YouTube (see below). The device is shown with a lightweight piping made of plastic that extends from the speaker of an iPhone, around its edges, and back to its mic receiver.

By allowing the sound to travel through the plastic tube, and then pushing or otherwise deforming the waves, the sheath functions as an analog input device that works passively. In some situations it could be more practical than a touchscreen, according to the researchers. Another convenient use for the device is that it can function as a button for opening the map app while the user is driving.

Moreover, the sheath could be altered and used as a stand to serve as a control mechanism for the alarm clock app. TechCrunch also observes that users can launch an application that emits a specific tone through their phone?s speaker. When a button is pushed, the Acoustrument changes the tone much in the same mechanism as a finger adjusts the tone of a flute when it blocks a hole.

Learn more about Disney?s interesting new Acoustruments below.

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Photo and Video Credit: ?Disney Research

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