Elliptic Labs uses ultrasound to control Windows 8 laptops

The first products will arrive next year

Norwegian company Elliptic Labs' touchless gesturing technology allows users to control devices by waving their hands in front of the screen, and the first implementation has been tailored for Windows 8 PCs, the company said on Tuesday.

Elliptic's technology is based on ultrasound, which is emitted from speakers and bounced back to microphones to track the user's hand movements, similar to how sonar detects objects. The movements are then interpreted by Elliptic's software to control the device.

The speakers are dedicated while the microphones can be used as regular microphones, as well. They are placed around the screen and only have to be a few millimeters in diameter, according to chief operating officer Haakon Bryhni. The company recommends using eight microphones and six speakers, but it can go down to two microphones and two speakers, he said.

Even though the technology can be integrated with smartphones, tablets and laptops, Elliptic decided to initially focus on laptops running Windows 8.

"Using the new touch-centric interface on a tablet feels natural," Bryhni said. Using a mouse and keyboard with the OS, however, feels awkward.

But with Elliptic's touchless gesturing technology users can control Microsoft's OS without having to rely on the mouse and keyboard. A video demonstrating the technology shows how users can scroll up and down, cycle between different application, access the charms menu and start applications using different gestures.

"We were actually amazed when we saw Windows 8, and realized that it was such a good fit for our technology," said Bryhni.

Elliptic isn't the only company developing technology for touchless gesture recognition. However, compared to competing products, which use cameras to detect movements, Elliptic's ultrasound technology is both cheaper to implement and less power-hungry, according to Bryhni.

The company also thinks it is an improvement over laptops with a touchscreen. Adding touch capabilities increases the price substantially , and users also end up smearing the screen, according to Bryhni.

The cost of integrating Elliptic's technology is 1 percent to 3 percent of the laptop's total price, Bryhni said. To make it easier for laptop vendors to integrate the technology Elliptic, is also launching an SDK and a starter kit, which is a sleeve that can be put on top of a standard laptop. By using the sleeve vendors don't have to integrate the speakers and microphones in the bezel while evaluating Elliptic's technology.

"We are now launching our first products, and it is a big day for us," said Bryhni.

However, it will take a bit longer before the first Windows 8-based laptops using the technology are announced. A number of different vendors are now evaluating the technology, and Elliptic expects the first products to arrive next year.

"We think we can show something really cool at CES in January," said Bryhni.

Norway has a long tradition of acoustic research from the oil exploration industry and medical ultrasound fields, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the Elliptic is Norwegian, according to Bryhni.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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