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Future smartphones may come without buttons using ultrasonic touch technology

Phone manufacturers are in extreme competition to come up with handy specs and features in their latest smartphones. While some of them focus on the looks of a phone, others aim for better cameras. But one key feature in a phone which is worth spending money for, is the display. For an edge-to-edge viewing experience, smartphone brands try to design the phone’s body in a minimalist way. This new scenario is the cause of new technologies and one of them results in virtual buttons.

Sentons, a startup in the USA, began marketing a technology that aims to do away with gadget buttons. The company says that it is already working with two smartphone makers in addition to an existing contract with Asus Computer Inc.

Led by Jess Lee, an engineer who sold his previous company to Apple Inc, Sentons announced a sensor system that uses ultrasonic sound waves to detect touches, presses and swipes on a variety of materials such as the metal edges around a smartphone.

In an interview with Reuters, Lee said: “Touch screens are great, but (phone makers) hadn’t been able to figure out how to add interactivity to the sides.”

While this bit isn’t something new to us as we have already seen this technology on Asus Rog II phone where the sensors allow gamers to hold the phone horizontally and tap Air Triggers along its top edge as virtual buttons with their index fingers while their thumbs tap the screen.

Lee further added: “With the thinner and thinner form factors, perhaps even all glass or with funky metallic edges that are really, really thin, there’s no space for buttons.”

Well, an absolute button-less smartphone surely sounds exciting for consumers and challenging for the makers at the same time. So, how Sentons is going to make it happen? It is a magic of a custom chip that sends out the sound waves and contains a processor and algorithms for understanding various gestures.

California-based Sentons is also working on a virtual jog wheel which allows users to scroll through apps on phones for one-hand usage. Another element of the company’s new technology is a virtual shutter button to focus a phone’s camera, similar to the way a physical shutter button works on dedicated digital cameras, Lee said.

Other than smartphones, Lee said the company hopes to add touch interactions to devices where screen space is either extremely limited, such as the frames of smart glasses or the bands of smartwatches, or where there are no screens at all, like the steering wheels of cars.