Innovation

Chip Startup Says Sensors May Replace Buttons On Phones

Smartphone

Striving to eliminate smartphone buttons, chip industry veteran-led Sentons started to market its technology and says it is working with two makers of smartphones beyond an existing Asus Computer Inc contract. Sentons, which is led by engineer Jess Lee who sold his past firm to Apple Inc., announced a sensor system that taps into ultrasonic sound waves to feel presses, touches, and swipes on many different materials like a smartphone’s metal edges, Reuters reported.

Lee told the outlet, “Touch screens are great, but (phone makers) hadn’t been able to figure out how to add interactivity to the sides.” The core of the company’s technology is a custom chip that distributes sound waves and has an algorithm along with a processor for making sense of different types of gestures. The company is also at work on a virtual jog wheel that lets users scroll through apps on phones that have grown too big to hold with a single hand.

And another technology is a virtual shutter button to focus the camera on the phone, much like the way that an actual tangible shutter button works on digital cameras that are dedicated. Sentons, which is based in San Diego, California, has notched $37.7 million in funding from Northern Light Venture Capital and New Enterprise Associates. The company has approximately 50 employees. Lee sold InVisage Technologies, an image sensor startup, in 2017 to Apple.

When it comes to smartphones, the devices have gone from revolutionary technology to an everyday tool that everyone on Earth carries in their pocket in the span of about a decade. As it stands, almost 80 percent of the U.S. adult population carries a smartphone (95 percent have mobile phones), as do nearly two-thirds of the population of the planet. Consumers are also holding onto their phones longer. The average smartphone’s lifecycle at the end of 2017 was 25 months — by the end of last year, however, that had swelled to 36 months.

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