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Flexing into future: Optimising touch sensing tech for broader markets

Posted: 07 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:projected-capacitive touch solutions? smartphones? Microchip?

There are flexible black-box touch controllers and royalty-free source code options that can be used across a standard portfolio of 8-, 16- and 32bit PIC microcontrollers to optimise features, performance and cost. This provides an easy migration path with many options to help keep future design paths open and for cost-down optimisations.

The sensor is the third challenge in enabling other markets to adopt projected-capacitive touch sensing. Touch sensors in the mobile market are often proprietary designs with limited access to supply chains. This restricted access presents a sourcing challenge as well as functional uncertainty for those that try to make their own custom solution. Fortunately, the recent development of various types of inexpensive projected-capacitive touch sensors that are easily available and manufacturable now enable designers to start working on these new market segments with PCAP-enabled designs.

Some examples of these sensor types include touch pads and flexible sensors. Typical touchpads are inexpensive sensors based on a printed circuit board (PCB) that can be used under a plastic overlay material, similar to the look and feel of the touchpad on laptops. These standard sensor designs provide the desired smooth-surface feel, with tap and swipe touch response, to everyday interfaces on applications such as gaming devices, light switches, automotive consoles and remote controls.

Other sensors options include flexible printed circuit (FPC) sensors and printed sensors with conductive inks. These flexible sensors offer options for designs with curved surfaces or backlit keypads that need cutouts for LED lighting. Advancements in transparent printed conductors are quickly developing to provide inexpensive and manufacturable transparent touch sensors for lower-cost display solutions, including wearable applications.

Touch solutions are rapidly evolving and proliferating into many designs, beyond the smartphone or tablet markets. Customers are seeking ways to add touch interfaces and gestures into their designs that are both easy to integrate and address the typical design challenges discussed here. Limited power budgets and the need for flexible design options for touch-controller and sensor solutions are no longer obstacles for projected-capacitive sensing technology to be used in everyday embedded applications.

About the authors

Carol Crawford
Director, Touch-Screen Controllers
Microchip Technology Inc.
Carol Crawford has been in the touch-screen industry for over 20 years, having worked as GM of Hampshire Co. before it was acquired by Microchip. Crawford also worked for 3M Touch Systems in various capacities including in the supply-chain management.
Crawford has an MBA from Marquette University and a BBA in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin.

Charlie Riegert
Product Manager, Touch-Screen Controller Group
Microchip Technology Inc.
Charlie Riegert manages Microchip’s touch-screen controller product offering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been in the touch-screen industry since 2005, having worked as a sales manager of Hampshire Co. Riegert's background is in training and education with a focus on business management and computers.
He has a master's degree from the National Louis University and a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin.

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