AT&T refines bone conduction technology for gestures, mobile devices

A series of patent filings this past spring shows AT&T continues to develop and refine technology related to bone conduction technology, which could be used to detect gestures and body language.

Bone conduction technology is used in hearing aids, implants and Bluetooth intercom systems for motorcylists so that riders can talk to one another, for example. The sound from Google Glass comes from a bone conduction transducer (BCT) found on the inside of the device just before the battery.Tech Times reported last year that Apple could put bone conduction technology into products to act as sensors for noise cancellation.

Since the beginning of April, seven new patent applications by AT&T for bone conduction technology have been made public, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, indicating it's not slowing down on its R&D.

One of the communication methods outlined calls for sending vibrations through the human body to transfer data to mobile devices. AT&T says the combination of bone and skin conduction to transfer data is even faster than bone conduction alone.

"An illustrative method for transferring data to a device includes identifying the data that is to be transferred to the device, modulating the data with a signal, providing the signal to a contact microphone that is in physical contact with an individual, and transmitting the signal through a body of the individual to the device using the contact microphone," reads the abstract in one of the filings.


An image in AT&T's filing made public May 7 shows gesture-based controls related to conductive bone technology. (Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

"An illustrative method for authenticating the individual includes transmitting a signal through a body of the individual in response to the individual physically contacting an authentication device, receiving a modified signal including the signal as modified by the body of the individual, removing the signal from the modified signal to identify a unique body signature of the individual, comparing the unique body signature to a database to determine if the database includes the unique body signature, and selectively authenticating the individual based upon whether the database includes the unique body signature," the application states.

In a patent application made public on April 30, AT&T describes how bone conduction technology can be used to target ads to users of mobile devices by detecting their body language.

"The device receives body language information associated with the body language of the user, analyzes the body language information to determine a physical activity being performed by the user, and selects an advertisement appropriate for the physical activity being performed by the user. The device can then provide the advertisement to the user," AT&T says.

In a patent application made public on May 7, concepts are disclosed about how to use bone conduction to create gesture-based controls for devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. For example, "touch gestures typically provided via a touchscreen can be mapped to bone conduction gestures so that bone conduction gestures can be used in lieu of or in addition to touch gestures to provide input to the application."

According to a 2012 Forbes report, another potential application for bioacoustics is the ability to keep people from texting while they're driving while still allowing passengers to use their phones. AT&T Labs told Forbes back in 2012 that the vibrations in the steering wheel are pretty unique, so it might be possible to disable the phone while the driver is holding the steering wheel. However, to avoid having people completely remove their hands from the wheel, a better approach might be to use seat vibration.

For more:
- see this Atlanta Business Chronicle article
- see these patent filings here, here and here

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