Touch panels are now one of the most popular „middle man” solutions when it comes to interaction between a human and a device placed in a public space. They are pretty much everywhere now – whenever we are buying a ticket for a bus or train, ordering lunch in any fast food joint, withdrawing money from an ATM, picking up a package, or paying for groceries, there is probably some kind of touch panel that makes it possible. What makes them still growing in popularity? What opportunities do they offer to designers? And finally, how to make touch panels… Touchless?
Let us start with the basics, though. The touch panel is made of two key components: a display and a sensor. Many suppliers offer ready-to-use, standard solutions that can be installed in the final product right away. However, it is worth considering an alternative, more efficient in a long-term approach – designing a highly customized product with each feature tailored to the needs of both the end device and the environment to which it is intended for.
The most popular type of display in touch applications is still LCD TFT. While choosing the suitable model for a given project we must consider a few key parameters defined by the final’s product future operating conditions. These are i.a. brightness level, the temperature range in which the device can properly function, type of interface used for data transfer, and advanced technologies such as hiTNI, which protects the LCD screen from black spots (damaged liquid crystals) caused by direct sunlight.
There are several touch technologies available on the market, e.g., more and more popular capacitive solutions. They function through the distortion of the electrostatic field caused by the direct contact with an electrical conductor, such as a stylus or our fingers. It is also worth mentioning that the touch panels can be fully adapted to the conditions in which they will operate. Some applications, especially those intended for heavy industry, will benefit significantly from such features as water and palm rejection (detecting the presence of water or an object on the module’s surface and preventing it from unduly interfering with the device), noise detection, and frequency hopping, which adjusts the touch panel operation to the working conditions in real-time, even with frequent changes in the noise intensity.
Putting hardened cover glass on the module not only protects it from mechanical damages but can also distinguish it and make it truly unique. There are unlimited options to customize the glass itself – non-standard forms and colors allow for easy adjustments to the chosen branding. Also, thanks to the constant development of printing technologies, glass can be covered even with photorealistic graphics.
Several kinds of glass coatings can be applied to the designed device to improve the comfort of its end-users, such as anti-glare (AG) and anti-reflective (AR) ones, which reduce reflections and enhance the legibility of the presented content, anti-fingerprint (AF), preventing the adhering of contaminations and anti-shatter (AS) which eliminates the spreading of glass shards in case of potential module damage. In the time of the pandemic, anti-microbial (AM) coatings, capable of reducing the number of microorganisms remaining on the display’s glass surface, are truly essential. The effectiveness of such solutions has been estimated up to 99.9% – this is crucial for applications located in public spaces and used daily by thousands of people.
But yet, it is possible to go one step even further than anti-microbial coating. The global pandemic made us maintain social distancing and pay more attention to the everyday objects we touch throughout the day – and limit such interactions. The answer to this need is non-contact interfaces that allow users to interact with the display without touching it (the so-called “Hover Touch”). Such solutions use artificial intelligence algorithms and allow not only to detect simple gestures of interaction but also to predict the person’s very intentions for using the device. The quick rise of their popularity in applications designed for urban space seems to be only a matter of time.
Each project requires an individual approach and careful analysis of factors that affect not only the functioning of the module and the device as a whole but also the user experience. Contact us if you need any support in implementing your project.
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