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Ultrasound can replace your smartphone's proximity sensor

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Elliptic Labs attracted a lot of attention at CES a couple of years ago when it demonstrated some pretty cool 3D gestural interactions based on ultrasonic wave technology. It allowed users to navigate through apps, control music playback, and answer calls all with the wave of their hand. The company hasn't seen widespread adoption of that technology, at least not yet, but its next application of the same principles could find a more receptive audience: ultrasound proximity sensing.

The new Beauty software from Elliptic Labs seeks to obviate the omnipresent infrared-based proximity sensor with the help of hardware we already have on most of our phones. By sending out small waves of sound from the phone's earpiece and listening out for their reflections with the handset's microphones, Elliptic is able to detect when a person brings up the phone for a call and dim the display appropriately. It's one of the most basic and essential features of our modern, all-glass smartphones, but at present it requires an unsightly IR module that's difficult to disguise.

Elliptic Labs promises its solution is "at par or better" than infrared in terms of accuracy and latency when detecting the user's head. Power consumption is also not increased, but cost and complexity of manufacturing are decreased, which is why the company feels extremely bullish about its chances of attracting hardware partners to integrate its technology. It's not as simple as just running the software on existing devices, and some integration is required, but Elliptic expects to have devices with its new ultrasound proximity sensor out on the market this year.