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Capacitive sensing done in OneTouch

Posted: 01 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ASICs? Synaptics? OneTouch? capacitive sensing? PCs?

Combining mixed-signal ASICs, tools and support, Synaptics Inc. unveiled its capacitive-sensing technology as a comprehensive, configurable solution for an expanding market. OneTouch is said to simplify the technology's design into end products to create capacitive buttons and scrolling features.

OneTouch is based on technology that has been designed into more than 1,000 products and shipped in more than 250 million modules over the past 10 years for applications in PCs, cellphones and PMPs, said R.K. Parthasarathy, senior product-marketing manager at Synaptics. The technology was previously available only in custom modules consisting of PCBs and multiple components. By contrast, OneTouch includes capacitive sensing chips, GUI-based design and development tools, documentation and technical support that can take a customer from concept through design to mass production, the company said.

OneTouch will not initially support all of the capabilities available in custom modules, which Synaptics will continue to offer, Parthasarathy said.

Custom modules
More-complex capacitive-sensing applicationssuch as the two-dimensional sensing capacity needed for notebook computer touchpadswill not be available through OneTouch initially because of integration difficulties. Those capabilities will continue to be available through custom modules, Parthasarathy said, and Synaptics will support them through OneTouch as the technology becomes more robust.

The design community's interest in applying the technology to a large number of new applications, particularly mobile handsets, was the major factor that urged Synaptics to provide the OneTouch chip-based solution, Parthasarathy said. With 200 to 250 mobile-handset models coming to market each year, a complete off-the-shelf solution is more viable than a custom module for each phone, he said. Mobile handsets also have tight market windows, and the trend toward thinner phones argued against the footprint of a custom module. "The reason we decided to come out with this new offering now is because we are really starting to see adoption in these new markets, which require new levels of engagement," Parthasarathy said.

Concern about how its technology is implemented in end products, Parthasarathy said, is one reason Synaptics is not making the most-complex capacitive-sensing capabilities available through OneTouch. Complaints from consumers have damaged the technology's reputation in the market for some products, and Synaptics has been dissatisfied with the way customers at times have implemented the technology, Parthasarathy said. "We didn't want to just offer chips and say, 'Go ahead, do it yourselves.' We think that would damage the space."

To that end, Parthasarathy emphasized the ease-of-use of the OneTouch development kit, which includes a suite of hardware and software tools. The software tools, he added, are all GUI-based, requiring no customer-written code. Reference designs are also available. Driver code is written in C, and the device supports all operating systems and processors, he said. The toolset incorporates a lot of the manufacturing and design knowledge Synaptics has acquired in 20 years of developing capacitive-sensing technology, Parthasarathy added.

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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