When you make a phone call, there's a reason your ear doesn't press all the on-screen buttons. The optical sensor near the earpiece is that reason. Thing is, the sensor needs an opening to see if anything is close. It's a small blemish, sure, but it's one manufacturers would love to do away with as they come up with increasingly sexy hardware (soon TVs won't be able to show these devices in commercials without covering them with black bars).

Elliptic Labs has developed a solution. Or rather, it has come up with a way to pitch its existing technology in a way that stands a chance of getting some companies excited. Rather than sticking an optical sensor at the top of the phone, Elliptic Labs replicates the functionality using ultrasound. The company's software-based approach utilizes a device's microphone and earpiece, two pieces of hardware that, at least for foreseeable future, remain necessary ingredients in making what most of us would consider a phone. That's why Elliptic Labs has named the project BEAUTY.

Dimming your screen while talking is hardly the only use case for this code, which is also capable of reading hand gestures. This is an evolution of the capabilities the company previously showed off on Windows laptops. Three years ago the developers demoed similar functionality on Android. But this time Elliptic Labs has reduced the hardware needed to make the magic happen, not the other way around. We just have to wait and see if a manufacturer takes the company up on its offer.

Press Release

Elliptic Labs Launches BEAUTY Ultrasound Proximity Software, Replacing Hardware-Based Sensor, To Make Phones Sleeker and Less Expensive

San Francisco, Calif.  and Shanghai, China – January 19, 2016 – After revolutionizing the user interface market for mobile devices with its unique ultrasound technology, innovator Elliptic Labs has turned its attention toward reinventing the optical proximity sensor for smartphones.  Hardware-based optical sensors have been an indispensable part of every smartphone since their inception to turn off the screen and disable touch functionality when a user holds a device to their ear. By replacing these hardware components, with Elliptic Labs’ “BEAUTY” – the first software-based solution to replace the optical proximity sensor – the unsightly black holes on the front of smartphone will be removed.  The result is a more esthetically pleasing design.

The optical proximity sensor requires one rectangular black shape or two large holes on the screen, these sensors detect when users are in call mode so the touchscreen can be deactivated. Smartphone designers have long wanted to remove these unattractive holes on the faceplate of the phone, but without the proximity functionality, a user’s cheek could accidentally trigger functions on the screen.

The hardware performing this required function has remained unchanged for years and represents a growing, multi-billion-dollar market worldwide. “We are disrupting this market with a superior software solution,” explained Laila Danielsen, CEO of Elliptic Labs. “Our BEAUTY ultrasonic software-only solution replaces and outperforms optical hardware sensors, beautifying mobile design, reducing cost and freeing up physical space inside mobile device. We will see our BEAUTY solution incorporated into phones in 2016.”

The BEAUTY ultrasonic software is based on the same breakthrough ultrasound technology that led ABI Research to name Elliptic Labs a global “Hot Tech Innovator” for 2015. The company’s sophisticated touchless gesture technology uses ultrasound to enable users to control electronic devices by hand movements all around a screen.

With Elliptic Labs BEAUTY product, ultrasound software delivers the proximity functionality, re-using the existing earpiece and microphone previously used only for audio.  A potential game changer, Elliptic Labs’ BEAUTY software is the only technology today that can deliver the proximity functionality without using a physical hardware sensor.

Besides improving the smartphone design, Elliptic Labs BEAUTY software solves some of the issues associated with today’s optical proximity hardware sensors, reduces costs, and improves performance. Optical proximity sensors can be unreliable in certain weather conditions or in response to variations in hair and skin color. Elliptic Labs’ software approach has none of these limitations and delivers a greater detection range.

Elliptic Labs is working directly with OEMs to cost-effectively integrate BEAUTY ultrasound proximity software into phones.