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Sensel tests out its shape-shifting force sensors on smartphones

Terrence O'Brien
Managing Editor
Sensel

Sensel has always prided itself on the flexibility of its force sensing tech. In fact, it's the primary selling point of the Morph, the company's shapeshifting touchpad that can be a drawing tablet, a drum machine or a video editing bay. But, no matter how wide of a net the Morph cast, it's definitely a bit of a niche product. So, the next step for Sensel is to get its tech into other devices made by other companies. This week at CES, it's showing off a proof of concept that puts its Pressure Grid sensor in a phone, beneath a flexible AMOLED display made by Visionox.

The Pressure Grid sensor goes much further than the Active Edge sensor in a Pixel. It doesn't just detect when you squeeze, but it knows how hard and can track movement. That means you could scrub through a video by dragging your finger along the edge of the phone, instead of blocking the screen with your hand. Or, it could be used as a virtual three stage shutter button, that would focus, shoot or take burst shots depending on how hard you press.

Perhaps my favorite scenario envisions a phone that knows when you're holding it in your left or right hand, so that it can automatically change the location of the keyboard.

The sensor could even eliminate volume buttons in favor of virtual ones. And, unlike capacitive touch controls, it works with gloves or even through a pocket. Imagine if you forgot to turn off your ringer before a movie -- you could give the phone a quick squeeze in your pocket to discreetly silence it.

Of course, there are still questions. For one, how well does this actually work? And two, will companies embrace Sensel's tech? Well, we can't answer the latter sadly, but we'll definitely be swinging by the company's booth at CES to test it out in person.