Force or pressure sensing and object recognition unlock a new level of creativity for application developers
By Ian Crosby, Sales and Marketing Director, Zytronic Ltd.
User interface designers are forever innovating, using new approaches and technologies to improve engagement and ease of use, and to attract the attention of customers. Force sensing technology, for example, which has recently found favour on smartphones and tablets, and is now emerging on large format touch screens too. Object recognition is another technology that is becoming available for touch tables based on Projected Capacitive Technology (PCT™ and MPCT™) touch sensors.
Force or pressure sensing literally and figuratively adds a new dimension to the touch experience. It is particularly powerful when used in combination with multi touch technology, exceeding what is possible on all but the most advanced tablets and smartphones today. For example, in a way finder or web browsing application, a soft touch can open a preview window – then by pressing harder, fully opens the window. On a kiosk, a soft touch can bring up a menu of options and increasing the applied force makes a selection. This is a great opportunity for making kiosks and ATMs more accessible to partially sighted users. An initial touch can trigger an audio confirmation of the selection, then increasing the force activates the choice. Developers can also create drawing and writing applications that respond to applied force without an active stylus. There is huge potential for innovative music applications, as well as for gaming and other smart user interfaces.
Extending force sensing from handheld devices to large touch screens used in commercial applications is much more than a matter of simply scaling up the same technology. Zytronic’s approach is based on a measurement of the surface area of an applied touch, which changes the measured capacitive signal levels at the relative touch location on the sensor. This eliminates the need for a piezo-electric or other layers on the glass to measure applied force or pressure, and means that the technology can even be used on thick, rigid and vandal resistant toughened glass surfaces. The feature is entirely implemented in the touch controller firmware, so existing customers could retrofit force sensing by refreshing the firmware and adapting their application software to respond appropriately using Zytronic’s proprietary Application Programming Interface (API).
Similarly object recognition provides a compelling new way of engaging the user with the touch screen and the interactive content available on touch tables. Users can create their own interactive objects for use with Zytronic multi touch sensors, creating a more engaging, immersive experience. Customers in a car showroom for example, can handle models of different cars, placing them on the table to access further information about that model such as specification, options and prices. Museums can also use the touch screens and software to create engaging visitor experiences, where videos and other content can be initiated when a model of the artefact of interest is placed on the table.
It isn’t possible for capacitive touch screens to detect non-conducting objects, and previous approaches with other touch technologies have mainly relied on cameras underneath or above the table to detect and identify objects. Zytronic and its software partner Tangible Display have collaborated to create a new solution based on the attachment of physical conductive markers to the objects to be tracked which again does not require physical modification of the touch sensor or multi touch controller, just the installation of new Zytronic firmware onto the multitouch controller, and the installation of Tangible’s application software. It can be offered on touch screens up to 85” diagonal.
A key advantage of the combined Zytronic and Tangible Display solution is that although the sensor will continue to respond to multiple touches, any objects placed on the screen which do not have the requisite “tags” on their base are disregarded. Therefore a cup, pen or a bag left on the table or a sleeve making contact with the glass will be ignored. As part of the guided setup process the software is taught to recognise only a specific pattern of tags attached to an object, and respond accordingly. Furthermore, a full report of user interactions can be saved for later review and analysis.
Opportunities to innovate
Both of these features provide a fantastic opportunity for application developers to innovate, creating touch interfaces that offer features users will have rarely seen before, other than in sci-fi movies. Whilst users may be familiar with force sensing from their smartphones, object recognition may be completely new to them. In both cases, commercial touch screens are keeping pace with innovation in the consumer electronic world. The Zytronic force sensing technology for industrial and self-service equipment is different, and arguably more widely applicable than that offered on smartphones, and object recognition isn’t available at all on small screens. Since both force sensing and object recognition are implemented in the touch controller firmware, they could even be added to existing Zytronic touch screens, assuming the customer writes or uses suitable application software.