Gesture tech will bring hands-free control to your phone

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Elliptic Labs CEO Laila Danielsen shows how simple hand gestures can activate her smartphone's camera. Photo: Elliptic Labs
Elliptic Labs CEO Laila Danielsen shows how simple hand gestures can activate her smartphone's camera. Photo: Elliptic Labs

You taking a selfie and a dolphin hunting for prey don’t seem to have much in common. But what if you could operate your smartphone with signals similar to the ones dolphins use to find food?

Elliptic Labs, which has bases in San Francisco, Norway and China, used the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, to show off advances in ultrasonic touchless gesturing Tuesday that will be available on some smartphone models later this year.

“We are excited about this,” chief technology officer Haakon Bryhni told Cult of Mac in a phone interview from Barcelona. “We’ve been working with touchless gesturing for years and now we have a real breakthrough. The technology enables you to wake up the phone, take a selfie or engage any other functions on the phone without touching it.”

The technology recognizes hand gestures with the use of microphones on a smartphone or tablet. Ultrasonic signals sent through the air from these microphones bounce against your hand, much as sounds made by dolphins echo and bounce off the fish they are hunting.

Because 90 percent of all photos taken with smartphones are selfies, Elliptic Labs demonstrates the technology in a video with CEO Laila Danielsen making photos of herself with quick wave motions toward her phone from various distances and angles. The photo is recorded within a fraction of a second. Touchless gesturing can be used for mobile gaming, signaling the snooze function on your alarm or scrolling through Facebook.

Hand gestures could operate several functions on a smarphone or tablet, including pausing a video. Photo: Elliptic Labs
Hand gestures could operate several functions on a smartphone or tablet, including pausing a video. Photo: Elliptic Labs

In addition to working quickly, the technology is sensitive enough to pick up an operator’s gestures from 7 feet away and 180 degrees around the device. The technology does not come in the form of an app; instead, it’s software that companies would integrate into device operating systems, Bryhni said.

Each company could program signature gestures.

“We are confident this will be a hit,” Bryhni said. “We seen it used for medical purposes and oil exploration, but it has not been used in consumer electronics. We feel fortunate to be the first with the technology.”