Former InvenSense executives launch MEMS ultrasound interface startup
The company was founded in 2017 by Mo Maghsoudnia, previously vice president of technology and manufacturing at InvenSense. Maghsoudnia declined to move with other staff into employment with TDK on that company’s acquisition of InvenSense, but instead perservered with this next entrepreneurial opportunity.
The company has come up with an ultrasound actuator/sensor that can be attached to the inside surface of an enclosure to create a touch user interface. Smartphones and automotive dashboards are applications where the company feels it can do well, although the technology is of more general applicability in industrial applications, medical equipmnt and white goods.
The MEMS-based technology operates at megahertz frequencies. It sends and receives pressure wave signals through 5mm of aluminium or glass and so can detect strength of tap and avoids the need for cut outs or openings in the enclosure. The use of small arrays of sensors on the reverse of surface of a housing allows scrolling and swiping motions to be recognized. UltraSense also intends to develop algorithms, machine learning and logic for local interpretation of the gestures as a part of a complete user-interface system.
The first products are called TouchPoint and the company has been sampling its wares since March 2019. UltraSense has been working in collaboration smartphone makers and has developed a unit measuring 1.4mm by 2.4mm by 0.49mm that will be production-ready in December and deployed in smartphones in 2020.
The technology is a MEMS structure attached atop a 0.18-micron CMOS mixed-signal ASIC. The technology is immune to problems associated with moisture, dirt, oils and lotions and works with any material and thickness including: metal, glass, wood, ceramic and plastic, the company claims.
The TouchPoint sensors consume micro-amps of current in always-on mode and so can be used in a “wake-up” circuit. With local processing in the sensor it can be used as stand-alone power button and can be interfaced with PMICs and haptic driver ICs.
Next: First of many
For applications where low power consumption is not a requirement, certain TouchPoint sensors include large drivers with higher operating voltages to transmit the ultrasound beam through more than 25mm of solid metal and beyond. The transducer can also be shut off and the sensor used to drive piezo materials to support large touch sensing areas, such as a mousepad in a laptop or trackpad in an automobile console.
“The use of ultrasound in touch user interfaces has not been implemented in such a novel way until now. Our family of TouchPoint ultrasound sensor solutions enable new use cases that allow OEMs to bring a differentiated user experience with a wider variety of touch and gesture functions under virtually any material and material thickness,” said Mo Maghsoudnia, founder and CEO, UltraSense Systems, in statement.
UltraSense is not the first company to use ultrasound for gesture. Startup Ultrahaptics Ltd. (Bristol, England), recently rebranded as Ultraleap Ltd., has used ultrasound generation to create free-space haptic feedback of optically recognized gestures (see UK haptics startup changes name to Ultraleap). Chirp Microsystems (San Jose, Calif.) created MEMS-based ultrasonic time-of-flight 3D sensor and was acquired by TDK-InvenSense in 2018 (see Startup Chirp Microsystems to become part of TDK’s InvenSense).
UltraSense raised about $4 million in its Series A round of finance in late 2018 and is closing its Series B.
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