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Ethertouch delivers next-generation capacitance sensing chip

Posted: 02 Feb 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mouse? touch screen? key pad? ethertouch? asic sensing chip?

Imagine a time when the wave of your finger could replace traditional tactile input devices like the computer mouse, touch screens and key pads. Ethertouch Ltd plans to make this dream a reality via its Ethertouch ASIC sensing chip.

The company's capacitive sensing technology utilizes the capacitance between the human body and a set of sensors to achieve advanced three-dimensional (3D)-sensing solutions.

Essentially, Ethertouch engineers have refined capacitive sensing to track the movement of any object or material at substantial distances with unsurpassed accuracy. At the simplest level, a user's finger or hand can be tracked as it passes through a sensing field. The sensors convert the 3D position (X, Y and Z-axis) into a digital signal, which in turn allows a processor chip of any computer or electronic device to interpret the inputs and direction. These inputs can be utilized in the more traditional forms of displayed cursor movements and object selection.

The 3D aspect of the input signals can also provide user interactivity not yet available to most electronic devices or computers. In essence, a person's motion in 3D (and notably, their velocity of movement), can be used to eliminate intermediate devicesmaking the finger, hand or body the means by which we interact directly with the virtual world.

Consequently, Ethertouch's ASIC can be used to complement or replace pointing accessories, mechanical and digital buttons, scrolling wheels and 3D touch screens. And, with a 12-channel sensing capacity, Ethertouch can be used to add 3D capabilities to game consoles and CAD tools.

The Ethertouch AD7103 40-pin ASIC is targeting several large consumer markets for the initial launch, although the 40-pin ASIC offers many features that are viable for a wide range of industrial products and sensor process control applications. This innovative capacitive sensor offers significant design and manufacturing benefits in 2D/3D applications, process control and other e-field sensor products, according to the fabless semi house.

The AD7103 can also be used in mobile devices (touch and touchless screens for cellphones, laptops and PDAs), and consists of three independent channels, each of which can be powered down separately. Power management modes are available that reduce current consumption to below 10?A. In full operational mode, the device typically consumes 8.5mA from a power supply between 2.6V and 5.5V. This enables the measurement of very small movements and/or changes even in the presence of large background signals.

"We're able to ship a chip today that demonstrates a myriad of 3-D opportunities that companies have yet to be able to achieve in human interaction. As well, our chip will now improve touchpad, display and process control applications currently on the market," said David Leis, VP of sales and marketing for Ethertouch. The chip will also drive down manufacturing costs in displays, touch pads and other applications using simpler sensors, and reduce sourcing costs for those components, Leis said.

Sensors can be attached to the AD7103 that require a far lower level of manufacturing precision with the ASIC's superior measurement capabilities. Expensive sensors can be replaced with those of literally any low-cost, conductive material, including sprayed on conductors, wire, tape or filaments.

The AD7103 is a single chip, capacitive sensor complete with on-board oscillator, ADC and industry standard serial peripheral interface (SPI) all packaged in a 40-pin LFCSP ASIC. Typically, these devices don't include ADCs or oscillators on board, the company said.

The AD7103 is the only 12-channel ASIC available today (3 independent channels with 4 inputs per channel), according to Ethertouch. The configuration features three discrete channels with four selectable inputs, allowing for 12 independent inputs. This allows the use of multiple high bandwidth sensors of various functions to be integrated with a single chip.

The AD7103 achieves 16-bit resolution, which enables measurement down to 4af per square root hertz. This enables the measurement of very small movements and/or changes even in the presence of large background signals.

All inputs are at virtual ground, which eliminates the cross coupling between channels and enables the use of shielding without reducing signal strength.

Ethertouch has developed an evaluation kit to demonstrate the capabilities of the ASIC in the desired configuration for linear, 2-D or 3-D applications. The $495 kit contains the ASIC evaluation board, software tools, instructions and hardware to develop a prototype of specific applications.

Ethertouch is shipping quantities of the AD7103 in quantities of 1,000 for $7.60 each. Minimum sample orders are 100 chips at $18 per unit.

- Bettyann Liotta
eeProductCenter




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