New Microphone Enables Touchless Gestures in Phones, Tablets

Knowles Corporation announced on Tuesday that it has created the world's first microphone that supports the ultrasonic bandwidth. What this means for you is that future phones and tablets packed with this microphone will support touch-less gesture recognition, pen input and 3D positioning input.

According to the company, this new Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) microphone supports ultrasonic frequencies up to 80 kHz, which is beyond human hearing. Just like an ultrasound that's performed on pregnant women, sound waves bounce off an object and return to the device, pinpointing the object itself and any movement.

In addition to the ultrasonic mode, the microphone has three other performance modes, one of which is a low power voice activation mode that's ideal for smartphones and tablets. The other two modes are sleep and standard.

A list of features reveals that this microphone, which measures a mere 3.50 x 2.65 x 0.98 mm, has the lowest power consumption in the market, three times less than other digital microphones. The microphone also has sensitivity matching for better algorithm performance, and is superwide-band capable.

"Knowles invented the MEMS microphone and facilitated the audio enhancements in the smartphone revolution," said Mike Adell, Knowles' Co-President of Mobile Consumer Electronics. "We are the world's largest microphone manufacturer, and our new ultrasonic bandwidth microphone is another example of how we use our audio expertise to solve for the ever-changing consumer market."

Do we really need gesture support on our smartphones? Sure, it makes sense on larger tablets, and maybe even on large-screen phones that enter the 6- to 7-inch arena. But right now gesturing on a phone sounds like a gimmick; maybe it will make our devices easier to use, and maybe it won't. We won't know until phone makers begin to experiment.

One such device maker is Amazon, which is expected to reveal its smartphone on Wednesday. This device will be packed with four cameras on the front – one on each corner of the screen – to keep the 3D imagery correct at any angle. This phone is rumored to provide gesture support, so we'll just have to see what becomes of this phone once it lands in consumers' hands.

Knowles' new microphone is expected to enter mass production in Q3 2014.

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