The next generation of smartphones is going to be all about the sensors that enable us to do cool new things without ever having to touch our handsets. And Sharp’s newest toy looks like a must have in this brave new world.Sharp has developed a new sensor designed to offer significantly improved gesture controls, lighting, and proximity detection using a single component, and it will be headed out to manufacturers later this month for them to start experimenting with.This hardware will enable manufacturers to offer greatly improved control over things like automatic brightness or screen disable when the phone is close to your head, but it will also allow for situations where the contents on the screen is directly affected by the proximity of your body to the sensor. You could, in theory, have text on a screen that got larger automatically as you brought the device closer to your face, or better control for face detection features like those seen in the Samsung Galaxy S4 right now.The sensor also unlocks access to a range of gestures for controlling your phone without ever needing to touch it. How advanced and involved such gestures become is down to the manufacturers choosing to use it, but it could make for some new and interesting smartphone control gesture sets next year.Demo sensor, showing the image grow and shrink with proximityIt’ll be about a year before we see the sensor in consumer products, but Sharp expects the demand for this technology will be significant over the next couple of months. This seems like the type of sensor manufacturers will be looking to add to their products over the next year, if for no other reason than to compete with Samsung, who has certainly pulled ahead of everyone else with their sensor-based features recently.