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Atmel rolls MCUs for next-gen touchscreens

Posted: 12 Jan 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:touchscreen? microcontrollers? touch sensor?

In recent years, touchscreens have become a dominant user interface for smartphones and tablets. This 2012 and in the coming years, touchscreens will become larger, thinner, faster, brighter and even stylus-enabled.

And of course, mobile device developers expect to design in all these advancements without paying for a potential increase in power consumption.

Atmel Corp. believes the onus of making that happen for mobile device guys falls onto the shoulders of touchscreen microcontroller suppliers, like themselves. "Our goal is to keep system designers unconstrained," said Sherif Hanna, marketing manager at Atmel.

Atmel, which had zero revenue in the touch screen market until it acquired Quantum Research Group in 2008, doubled its touchscreen controller business from $150 million in 2010 to $300 million last year.

Jockeying for an even bigger market share, Atmel has rolled out at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) its maXTouch S Series family, the company's third generation touchscreen controllers, featuring two new homegrown technologies"SlimSensor Technology" to combat display noise and "maXCharger Technology" to combats extreme charger noise.

Atmel engineers designed the new S Series touchscreen microcontrollers with three-goals in mind: significantly reduce the impact of system noise; enable slim sensors; support active and passive stylus. They claim to have achieved all three goals through the development of new analog circuitry, DSP blocks and firmware that are now all implemented in the new touchscreen microcontrollers.

maXTouch S Series

The maXTouch S Series features Atmel's SlimSensor technology and maXCharger technology. Source: Atmel Corp.

A new breed of touchscreens
For most consumers, the responsiveness of a touch is one of the first things they notice when using a new touchscreen-enabled mobile device. Now, this "immersive experience in responsive touch" becomes even more critical, as more smartphones and tablets are increasingly morphing into a platform of choice for gaming, observed Hanna.

Unlike an e-reader on which a reader may touch only once when turning a page, gaming applications require much more active and repetitive contact. "That means a touchscreen microcontroller needs to crank out, constantly, display noise avoidance algorithm," said Hanna. Unfortunately, that would only contribute to the higher power consumption.

In the new maXTouch S Series, Atmel's design team added new hardware blocks to its touchscreen controller so that it can offload some of the heavy-duty processing tasks. "We are going for a happy middle ground for balanced hardware/software implementations," explained Hanna.

A new class of touchscreens also means larger and thinner displays. Atmel claims its new touchscreen microcontrollers are designed to offer high electrode count to match display size and resolution, while supporting unshielded touch sensors.

Of the three new touchscreen microcontrollers, mXT1664S is ideal for products with touchscreens up to 17" diagonal. Unlike Atmel's previous generation touchscreen controllers, which required system designers to use four of them to accommodate a larger screen to create 1386 nodes, the mXT1664S can support as many 1664 nodes as in a single chip.

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