On what basis do you make your statement that this is too many elements? IMO implies opinion, do you have any facts or physics to back up your statement?
Laws of physics do not change with time.
I do not think that beamforming needs more than a few emitting sources neither a Nobel prize. Check no further than your Wi-Fi router's antennas.
The technology you are describing is entirely different and older, as in your description there is no beamforming.
In the technology you describe, there is a requirement for two emitters/receivers to be separated by less than a wavelength, however this strong requirement does not exist for beamforming.
What makes beamforming useful is modulating and coding the beam. Another thing important is the SNR, as it is the addition of the waves that creates "beams".
When I checked Google patents I found beamforming patents in ultrasound imaging since 1986, and super-resolution (pionnered in astronomy and microscopy) in ultrasound imaging since 2005 (US 20050160817).