May 14, 2015 | By Simon

Although smartphone companies have spent millions of dollars slimming the profiles of their devices and creating lighter pieces of hardware, there are still many who prefer the tactile touch experience that goes along with using analog devices - including external buttons, knobs, levers and switches.  While this sounds like a classic case of “picking one or the other”, recent developments completed by researchers at both Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research may hold the answer to giving us both experiences in a single device - thanks in no small part to 3D printing.  

Through their experiments, the researchers were able to harness ultrasonic waves - combined with their iPhone’s speaker and microphone - to create "Passive, Acoustically-Driven, Interactive Controls for Handheld Devices" or “Acoustruments” for short.  In other words, they 3D printed a variety of hollow tubes that could deliver sound waves to the iPhones microphone and manipulate the sound waves along their path.  

To carry out their experiments, the researchers started with a project base consisting of a programmed iPhone that emitted a continuous, ultrasonic sound through 3D printed hollow tubes that were guided to the microphone of the iPhone.  From here, specialized software was able to to interpret various sound manipulations that could be controlled through adding on a variety of physical buttons, dials, levers, knobs, switches and other forms of analog controllers.   

“Through a structured exploration, we identified an expansive vocabulary of design primitives, providing building blocks for the construction of tangible interfaces utilizing smartphones’ existing audio functionality,” wrote the researchers in their published report.  

“By combining design primitives, familiar physical mechanisms can all be constructed from passive elements. On top of these, we can create end-user applications with rich, tangible interactive functionalities.”

While it may seem counter intuitive to advance the design of devices only to add analog control features; this is something that Apple has included on their recent Apple Watch design and the wearable is considered one of the most advanced pieces of consumer tech to date.  One only needs to imagine how useful this could be for a multitude of other applications including alarm clocks, driving controls and of course, combining tactical experiences with apps.

While some tactile experience are already in existence with third-party Bluetooth-connected devices, the new Acoustrument tech would theoretically enable consumers to create their own tactile controls at home using a 3D printer - similar to how the researchers did during their prototyping stage.      

According to the researchers, the ability to control a smartphone with sound waves is 99% accurate.  This accuracy was further explored by introducing as many wacky applications as the researchers could come up with during the prototyping stage including physical controls for Google Cardboard VR headsets, a custom GPS car mount with physical rocker switch and button designs, and a case that turns an iPhone into a digital toy car.  

“There is an emerging class of use-cases where mobile devices are being “plugged-in” into objects and environments, provisioning the "smarts" that augment their capabilities,” wrote the researchers.

“As such, smartphones transform an otherwise simple or static object into something with rich interactive functionality.”

Among other applications that would actually make it to the real world, the Disney researchers tested utilizing the Acoustrument technology in a squeezable and interactive toy doll.    

“Using technologies like 3D printing, we show that rich physical controls can be rapidly prototyped, providing new methods for experimentation by HCI practitioners,” concluded the researchers in their paper.

“Further, our approach can be extended to traditional fabrication techniques, such as injection molding, milling and machining, which can further drive down cost and improve ease of deployment in consumer products.”

The study, which was  led by head researcher Gierad Laput, was presented by him recently at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2015), in Seoul, South Korea.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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EDDIE EMESSIRI wrote at 5/14/2015 1:52:09 PM:


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