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Ultraleap develops own ultrasonic transducer for automotive, metaverse

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty


Ultraleap in the UK has developed an ultrasonic sensor and transducer that it says is a fraction the size of existing devices.

The sensors are key to its mid-air haptics technology for touchless controllers in vehicles and virtual reality systems for the metaverse.

The development over the last seven years combines a transducer and local processing to reduce the size and cost of the sensor and the processing requirement. The transducer, previously bought in from other suppliers (above as comparison), provides the feel of dials and buttons in mid air and is coupled with hand-tracking cameras and software.

“The physical size and cost of a mid-air haptics system has been the biggest blocker to large-scale adoption,” said Tom Carter, CEO at Ultraleap in Bristol, UK. “The transducers, which project the ultrasound to create a haptic effect, are the biggest and most expensive component in this system. We have been on a mission for seven years to design and produce a better transducer, and I’m very proud to announce that we’ve succeeded.”

“To convert the energy to your target medium, you use a matching layer,” he said. “Typically, these are roughly equal in size to the wavelength of ultrasound you are using. So, most airborne transducers operate at 40kHz (λ=8.6mm) and are ~10mm thick. Our transducer is just a fraction of a wavelength thick without compromising on performance.”

“The design is also greatly simplified, making it both cheaper to manufacture and cheaper for our customers to build into their products,” he said.

The new transducer will be fully qualified for automotive use, meaning it can be used by automotive OEMs in their next generation of vehicles and giving Ultraleap volume customers.

The company has been working with car makers including Citroen and BMW on using mid air haptics for touchless control systems. “Over the last eight years, developers and research teams at many of the world’s biggest car manufacturers have been using our technology to research and test the potential for controlling virtual touch,” said Carter. 

“For our automotive customers, we’ve also integrated these ground-breaking transducers into a modular and flexible development platform. This kit enables them to evaluate and optimise their own specific use cases, in any layout and position within a vehicle [with] no costly rebuilds or bespoke hardware,” he added.

“We have been able to reduce the compute requirements of our haptic technology by decoupling the haptic device from the computer – something that was previously essential in creating haptic sensations. The haptic device is now in control of generating the sensations. The result is a simple, low-bandwidth interface that enables low-compute haptics with significantly increased strength and consistency,” he said.

Metaverse

“The metaverse is perhaps an over-hyped term, but ultimately, it’s a useful way of describing a world in which digital content is predominantly 3D and blended into the physical world,” he said. “The metaverse will depend on more natural forms of interaction – enter hand tracking and mid-air haptics. It’s the combination of our technologies that truly enable natural interactions, without the need for controllers, buttons, or touchscreens. 

Brian Williams, CEO of Ultraleap Manufacturing, said: “It’s been a long time coming but it’s great to see the initial production of these elements. We look forward to working with our customers and partners to integrate them into the next generation of cars and products.”

Jonny Codling, VP of Automotive at Ultraleap added: “Our recent technological developments will enable the automotive industry to fully embrace the potential of mid-air haptics. It’s come at the right time too. The rise of electric cars is levelling the playing field for vehicle performance. Manufacturers can no longer rely on differentiation through outright power and are looking for alternative ways to separate themselves from the pack. Mid-air haptics is the missing piece of the puzzle in automotive HMI and OEMs can now fully embrace this technology to stand out from the competition.”  

As a direct result of the development of the transduce, Ultraleap is sunsetting the STRATOS platform it has been using since 2018, before the merger of Ultrahaptics and Leap Motion in the US in 2019.

Current customers will still be able to upgrade to the newer software and Carter says Ultraleap will continue to provide support but the company won’t be developing the STRATOS software further, focusing instead on the next generation of mid-air haptics products and solutions.

www.ultraleap.com

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