MANHASSET, N.Y. Companies looking to design iPod-like touch-based interfaces into industrial or consumer electronic systems could be aided by Cirque Corp.'s GlideSensor Development Kit, which provides a step-by-step path for evaluating and implementing capacitive input technology for embedded systems.
The kit is intended to give capacitive input a common touch. It is aimed at small and medium-sized companies that aren't in a position to sign a development contract or pay huge non-recurring engineering costs to access the technology, Cirque said. The kit makes the touch technology commonly found on laptop computers and popularized in Apple's iPods available to designers of cellphones, MP3 players, handheld electronics, applicances, industrial products and other systems, allowing them to add custom single-axis or two-dimensional touch input to a system.
The $500 kit gives designers an alternative to mechanical switches or single-point membrane switches like touch pads. "Integrating capacitive sensors is not a trivial matter, and we have found OEMs and ODMs have a lot of difficulty applying touch capacitive technology because it is not easy to implement," said Douglas Moore, vice president of Cirque (Salt Lake City), a subsidiary of Alps Electric Co. Ltd.
|GlideSensor technology is available in linear, dual-axis and circular sensors that may take the form of thin films, flexible or rigid panels, irregular shapes and optically clear indium tin oxide panels.|
"The development kit provides the customer with a stepwise approach to the technology that will lead them through development to successful integration," he said.
Capacitive touch technology has moved beyond laptop cursor movement to include control functions like those found on iPods. Cirque's GlideSensor arrays can be programmed for such functions as touch-based scrolling, sliding, buttons or dials. The behavior of the functions can also be programmed, responding to the touch or lift of a finger, dwell time, continuous motion or tapping.
Some customers have developed touch-based text entry. Four production cellphones sold in Asia by different suppliers, including Motorola and Samsung, use Cirque sensors to input text characters by gliding a finger over the roughly 44-mm-square surface of the keypad, Moore said.
The development kit includes tools, a mixed-mode ASIC controller, a touch input sensor and sample code written in C that can be transported to any host microcontroller. SPI or I2C protocols provide an interface to the host controller. The sensors can be placed under most nonconductive dielectric material, but the thickness of the overlay depends upon the material's dielectric properties. Glass may be no more than 10 mm thick, and most plastics no more than 2 mm, Cirque said.
The kit supports Cirque's GlideSensor programmable sensors and GlidePoint non-programmable sensors. The sensors can take the form of thin films, flexible or rigid panels, irregular shapes or optically clear indium tin oxide panels, Cirque said.
A handful of customers with "real urgent requirements" received pre-release versions of the kit, Moore said. "They've been quite successful in getting them on with their projects," he said. "We had been researching various capacitive input solutions to complete our line of touch input devices when we began looking at Cirque," said Christoph Keist, director of R&D at Abatek Group (Zurich, Switzerland), a maker of keypads and input/output products. "The GlideSensor Development Kit offered a very fast and simple solution for the prototyping and proof of concept work we needed to do."
The development kit "allows engineers to design products with custom touch input solutions more rapidly than previously possible," Moore claimed. Cirque will also provide support to customers who need assistance with their designs, he said.