Gestures have refined the human-machine interface, enhancing usability for existing device types while also enabling completely new products and innovative use cases. The technology behind gesture sensors has been available for some time, Sharp notes, but gestures have only recently appeared as a user interface feature on mainstream consumer electronics.
Previously, gesture sensors posed challenges to manufactures in a number of areas. For mobile devices, size and power consumption frequently proved to be limiting factors. In all applications, accuracy, reliability and cost continue to be key issues. Much smaller devices can now integrate these types of sensors.
Sharp’s approach has been to include three different functions on a single sensor chip, resulting in several advantages for device makers. Sharp was the first to develop a component that integrates an ambient light sensor (ALS), gesture sensor, and proximity sensor all in a single package. Since the sensor chip brings along its own LED infrared emitter, manufacturers no longer need devote time and resources to selecting a suitable infrared LED for their sensors. This lowers costs and increases accuracy and reliability. The ALS sensor enables innovative features to control the brightness of the LCD backlight. The all-in-one design also saves valuable device real estate, allowing for more compact designs without sacrificing functionality.
A gesture sensor works by emitting an infrared beam and detecting the reflected IR, allowing the location of the respective object, such as a hand, to be calculated. As the hand moves, the intensity of the reflected infrared light changes and the sensor detects motion.
Entire devices types may gain a new life through gesture sensors, such as digital signage. The public spaces these displays occupy are often unsuitable for other input devices, and touchscreens can also be problematic here. A gesture sensor can allow for easy scrolling and menu selection without requiring physical contact or devices that can be subject to physical wear or abuse. Other areas where gestures will become increasingly widespread include home appliances, lighting, and sanitary installations, and of course mobile devices such as phones and tablets.
Sharp is in production at rates of output in the millions of sensor units per month; the company anticipates making future sensors that will offer even more performance in ever-more-compact form factors.