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Touchless Gestures – the next frontier of touch technology

Big changes in touch and interactivity are coming quickly (see the Top 5 Touch Trends segment) and the concept of “touchless gestures” or enhanced motion recognition has the potential to change a lot of what we know about touch. The good news for touch screen manufacturers is that this touchless technology is a long way off  from claiming any sizable share of the marketplace for a couple of reasons:

1)  Let’s face it, touchless gestures are not yet practical for many touch screen applications.
2)  These emerging technologies are still largely in their infancy.
3)  The market hasn’t found a good place for them yet.

But touchless gestures are a cool idea, and are, no doubt, part of our interactive future. The popularity of Nintendo’s Wii, has demonstrated the need for enhanced motion recognition and digital interaction with display devices. And now Sony, with the Move, and Microsoft, with Kinect, have signaled a substantial response to the Wii, enabling much more sophisticated interactive capabilities [Mark Fihn, Top 5 Touch Trends].

This video below from the Virtopsy Project shows that there is, in fact, huge potential for these motion recognition devices and demonstrates how Microsoft’s Kinect can be used to control a Medical PACS system. I dont think the technology is quite where it needs to be, but the Virtopsy Project presents some real food for thought.

See the Virtopsy Project in motion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6CT-YDChmE

Signing out.

Touch Girl.

What do you think is going to be the next “big thing” in the future of touch technology? – Paul Jones, Santa Cruz, CA

Dear Mr. Jones:

Now Touch Guy feels threatened! For many months he has been extolling the virtues of projected capacitive touch and now you think it might not be the good-for-everything solution. Ok, I will reluctantly look into the crystal ball, aka Touch International’s skunk works, to provide you the answers you seek.

In-cell technology has long been rumored to be the projected capacitive killer. With in-cell, the touch sensors are the pixels in an LCD display. By light or capacitance sensing, when the thin film transistors are not busy switching the liquid crystal material, they can sense touch and send the information back to the LCD controller. There are already two or three products using this technology but its complexities and cost have delayed large scale production.

Many people are experimenting with corner camera technology of the sort used in big touch displays. As cameras get smaller and cheaper, this technology holds promise for future use in hand-held devices. The advantage over projected capacitive is that it is better at integrating a standard pen into the system. Higher power and the need for ambient light, among other things, add to the difficulty of wide-scale integration.

Fiber bundles with one camera offer some benefit; so far, the cost of making a low profile product in volume has been evasive, but this technology offers the ability to sense a pen tip as well as two touch applications. Right now it lacks the ability to do true multi-touch, so it may lag.

You should remember that like these emerging technologies, projected capacitive is not static and may one-up itself. Pen input, proximity sensing (up to one meter) and no-touch-touch applications are on the way.

So now that you’ve seen “the future” don’t forget that Touch International’s MARS product, is available today and offers high resolution pen input and full multi-touch capabilities.

There are more than 2000 patents on touch sensing, so Touch Guy does not claim to know the future but he has no fear – projected capacitive is here to stay.

It was with great excitement that I received my projective capacitive multi-touch kit from Touch International. My guidelines for our vendor were to find a touchscreen with multi-touch support and support for security glass. I’ve seen that there is no driver for this touch screen to support multi-touch. And on the other hand we tried to put a glass layer in front of the touch panel and it didn’t work. Another problem we are facing is that if the touch-panel comes near the lcd-panel the touch coordinates are wrong. What gives?

– Daniel Amesberger

Well, TouchGuy hangs his head in shame for letting you down. While the real world performance is fantastic, It turns out that this new-fangled projective capacitive (p-cap) touch is not quite so plug-and-play as the plain-old-resistive-touch. All touch technologies have their idiosyncrasy—resistive touch needs to be calibrated to the display, IR requires that the beams and receptors are aligned, SAW has special bezel mounting requirements, and DST even requires “certified installers”. In its exuberance to ship the p-cap samples to customers, my guys and ladies did not provide much of (read, practically nothing) in the way of a manual. Touch is working hard to prepare the support you need to do your evaluation. For now, here are some things to consider:

1. Although the sensing layer is sealed inside the glass or plastic (which is why it never wears out), there is a front and back. You really cannot tell which is which, so we will be marking the front side..

2. Most of our sensors come complete, so if you want to put your own cover glass on the sample, you will need to make sure you are putting it on the front, and you will need to reset the controller so it can reset the values for the new glass. Normally, cover glass cannot be more than 3mm thick. If you need the cover glass to be thicker, you need a special version of the controller.

3. If you change the cover glass, you may need to use our new wiz-bang GUI control program to reset the sensitivity. This utility will be available next week.

4. When p-cap electronics start-up, a quickie calibration occurs. Normally the sensor will be attached to the display, but if it is not, sometimes picking the sensor up and moving it will affect the sensitivity; note that this only applies when the sensor is moved without being attached to the LCD.

5. In some rare instances, there is a big ‘ol metal plate under the desk or table. A big metal plate will negatively affect the sensitivity.

6. We have multiple controllers—single touch, multi-touch, all-points-addressable, proximity sensing—lots more actually, so you need to make sure you have the one you want.

7. Demonstrating multi-touch requires a multi-touch driver, so you need to install it or you will just get a single touch. When Windows 7 is released, no driver will be needed for USB operation.

Until next time,
Touch Guy