Tag: touchscreen

Company buys Cypress touch screen business

Cypress logoCypress said it has sold its TrueTouch mobile touchscreen business to Parade Technologies for $100 million in cash.

Para will sell its technology to mobile customers but also has plans to move into other sectors.

It will target smartphones, tablets, notebooks, monitors, wearable technology, GPS systems, digital cameras and some industrial segments.

Cypress will continue to supply TrueTouch to automotive and home appliance customers.

Parade said in a statement that the acquisition will “substantially expand” its market.

Jack Zhao, CEO of Parade, said the acquisition will provide it with immediate growth opportunities and help to diversify its revenue and customer base.

The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of this year.

IBM: You'll be able to 'feel' through your smartphone in five years

Smartphones will be able to ‘touch’ materials through their handset within five years, IBM has predicted.

Researchers at Big Blue are already developing applications for retail, healthcare and other areas using a variety of sensors to give tactile feedback through a touchscreen, simulating the feel of materials.

In the company’s set of five annual predictions, IBM is claiming that within five years smartphones will see advances that heighten the sensory ability of handsets to see, hear, taste and smell, as well as simulating touch.

With regards to touch, it is claimed that smartphones will be able to replicate the feel of a material using haptic, infrared and pressure sensitive technologies as a phone user brushes their finger over a material onscreen.  

Haptic feedback is already used in the gaming industry, providing feedback in accordance with on screen action. With smartphones this could be applied to a handset’s vibration capabilities, producing a unique vibration that is, the scientists claim, able to replicate the feel of materials, differentiating between silk, linen and cotton, for example.

One aspect of the advances necessary to enable tactile feedback is to build up a ‘language’ of vibrations relating to materials. IBM says that using digital image processing and image correlation, it will be possible to access a lexicon of data on texture qualities, allowing a phone user to automatically upload the ‘feel’ of an object through a picture.

As well as allowing designers and fashionistas to touch materials in different parts of the world, or shoppers to feel a wicker basket on the other side of the planet, this could enable farmers to determine the health of a crop by comparing it to a database of healthy crops. This could also mean improvements to tactile feedback on touchscreen keyboards.

In future the technology could even be used to send a doctor a picture of an injury, allowing them to feel and detect any damage that has been caused as a result of an injury.

Although some applications may err towards sounding like science fiction at the moment, IBM points out the advances that have been in the previous five years with smartphone technology, and the multitude of applications that are already possible.

Bernie Meyerson, IBM Fellow and VP of Innovation said that advances in the ability to replicate or detect touch, sound, sight, taste and smell  will increase the ability of technology to make sense of the world around us. 

“Just as the human brain relies on interacting with the world using multiple senses, by bringing combinations of these breakthroughs together, cognitive systems will bring even greater value and insights, helping us solve some of the most complicated challenges,” Meyerson said.

Computer identifies you by your shoes

German researchers have come up with a method of identifying a user by looking at their shoes.

According to Technology Review, the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, worked out that when several people use a single touch screen they can be driven nuts by authentication problems.

So they created a project, called Bootstrapper, which uses cameras below a table to identify different users by their shoes. Each set of shoes is linked to an account that keeps track of a person’s actions and preferences.

Bootstrapper uses cheap and cheerful hardware and means that a person’s hands are free to interact with the surface. User preferences can be stored according to their shoes, so when someone leaves the table, it’s easier to resume an activity when they return.

Until now those who want to share large touch screen computers have needed sensors to chairs, or using cameras positioned above a table. One approach required users to wear a ring that emits infrared which was then tracked by the touch-table’s cameras.

Bootstrapper collects video of shoes using cameras positioned below the surface of the table. It then extracts information about the texture of the shoe and links it with actions on the touch screen that correspond to hands and arms aligned with the shoes. 

Patrick Baudisch, professor of computer science at the Hasso Plattner Institute, said that shoes are ideal to track because they offer distinct features such as colours, seams, laces, logos, or stripes. They also typically maintain contact with the ground, unlike hands on a tabletop or bottoms in chairs, so they’re easier to track.

Bootstrapper is not intended as a security feature because people can spoof the system by buying the same shoes as someone else. But it is designed so that the computer can identify who is doing inputting what.

Capacitive touch shipments to soar in 2012

A new wave of products could see capacitive touchscreen shipments hit even greater heights in 2012 than the impressive figures already notched up this year.

Analysts at DisplaySearch have noted that estimates for capacitive touchscreens will hit 566 million in 2011 as smartphones continue to proliferate across the electronics market.

It has been through the popularity of smartphones that the capacitive touchscreen, which makes use of electricity from the human body to detect touch, is making such headways into the market.

This is only set to increase in 2012 as more and more devices pick up on capacitive touch technology.  With a thinner structure and lighter weight, capacitive touchscreens are more responsive than the resistive type, and it is expected that new production methods are will enhance screens in the next year.  Sensor-on-cover touch devices developed by Wintek and Cando are expected to see good sales.

While Apple led the way with capacitive touch on smartphones and tablets, it is the introduction of the long awaited Windows 8 that will see the technology grow rapidly in 2012.

There are various examples of touchscreen all-in-one PCs and laptops on the market at the moment but it will be the release of the touch-friendly Microsoft OS that will massively expand the range of products.

One of the features on Windows 8 will be larger tiles and icons for an easier touch interface.  This will make the technology much more accessible on a range of devices.

With Intel’s much hyped Ultrabooks about to enter their next generation of products, it is thought that 2012 will also start to see many other devices fitted with touchscreen compatibility.  And if Intel’s projected sales are accurate then capacitive touch could get a real boost.

Education and training applications are also expected, with optical imaging and infrared touch making an impact on even larger scale screens than all-in-one PCs.  Multi-media teaching systems are already being developed across the world with screens over 30 inches.

Resistive touch has not been forgotten.  Though long design cycles will hamper any serious short term impact, resistive touchscreen systems are getting snapped up in automotive monitors.

Of course, it could be only a matter of time before all touchscreen types are considered old hat.  If recent reports are to believed there are already devices in development which rely soley on gestures.  Israeli firm XTR3D is planning to release a gesture-based smartphone in 2012, though whether or not the technology will be able to usurp touchscreen remains to be seen.

Graphene transistors communicate with living cells

It seems that nowadays graphene, which we are contractually obliged to refer to as a ‘wonder material’, is everywhere.  From applications in flexible touchscreens, a new wave of inkjet-printed ultrafast circuits or even a foam used to detect explosives, graphene could be set to revolutionise, well, everything.

Though we’re still awaiting the first applications of graphene to actually become commercially available – this is likely to be smartphone touchscreens, we are told – rarely a day goes by without new potential uses cropping up.

Now, researchers at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen have found a way to make the material even more pervasive.

This is because a team led by Dr Jose Garrido has been working on combining graphene with living cells.  Essentially this means that the material could, in the not-too-distant future, actually be making its way inside your brain.

This is not the first foray into electrical components in conjunction with biology. Many boffins are already working on getting chip and tissue to work together.  However, Garrido reckons that the use of graphene presents a much more viable method for achieving this goal than with silicon based circuitry.

Problems that have hampered silicon development include difficulty opereating in a wet  liquid environment, and being too ‘noisy’ to communicate with nerve cells. Furthermore, silicon is not very flexible, unlike graphene.  This means the researchers believe silicon development could in fact be a “dead end”.   

Graphene, on the other hand, is chemically stable, biologically inert, and can be fabricated relatively cheaply and easily.

Now Garrido’s team has developed, for the first time, a graphene-based transistor array that can be combined with living tissue, and crucially, pick up on electrical signals that are generated. 

This means a direct interface between microelectronic devices and nerve cells – essentially the holy grail of cyborg-style integration of technology into the human body.

This could lead to, for example, sensors inside a person’s brain, eye or ear to help compensate for damaged cells.  Unfortunately it seems that the researchers have not outlined any Deus Ex-style augmentation such as night vision or a bioluminesenct retina at this point.

The method involved using 16 graphene solution gated field effect transistors fabricated on copper foil.  Variations of the electrical and chemical environment around the FET gate could then be sensed and in turn converted in a variation of the transistor current.  

The team grew a layer of biological matter similar to heart muscle cells, and the team found that they could pick up easily the signals transmitted by the nerve cells, in a way that decades of silicon development has struggled to do.

While the research is clearly a long way from real world applications, the team believes that it shows that key performance characteristics are feasible. 

According to Dr Garrido, there are some intriguing applications that being worked on right now.

“Our main goal is the development of grapheme for flexible brain implants,” he told TechEye. “Currently, we are considering two main applications in neuroprosthetics – cortical implants and retinal implants. Both applications will benefit from the flexible technology.”

Garrido tells us developments are in early stages, though working prototypes are expected within the timeframe of just a few years: “Currently, we are at the very beginning,” he said. “In particular, we have to transfer our current technology based on rigid substrates to a more suitable technology based on flexible substrates. We are part of an EU consortium where there are several partners, industrial and hospitals, interested in these applications, and we already have some experience with the technology needed for such applications.”

Fully characterised demonstration prototypes are expected in two to three years,Garrido tells us. After that, “preclinical studies will be necessary before we can expect approval from the FDA and European Medicines Agency.”

Garrido believes that graphene offers serious benefits over silicon-based devices: “The main advantages are chemical stability and biocompatibility of graphene films, facile integration with flexible technology, and the excellent performance of graphene sensors in terms of sensitivity.

“Our preliminary biocompatibility studies, using pure retinal ganglion cells from postnatal rats, has shown that graphene films exhibit similar performance than the standard glass substrates used for cell culture.

“The high carrier mobility in graphene results in devices with very high transconductance, i.e. ‘gate sensitivity’. In comparison to Si counterparts, the graphene FETs exhibit close two orders of magnitude increase in transconductance.

Garrido explains: “It’s not only the signal sensitivity which matters, also the noise level. Our graphene FETs show a noise level which is at the same level that ultra-low noise Si FETs. By improving the graphene growth and fabrication, we expect further lowering of the noise in these devices. We hope to be able to detect signals below one microvolt.

“One important remaining issue concerns long term stability under physiological conditions. It’s worth remembering that we’re talking about a material which is one atom thick. We only have tests performed in-vitro during less than 10 days. Still, we have to perform the long term tests.” 

Fears rise over Apple's multi-touch patent

There is some alarm around after the US Patent and Trademark Office decided to award a patent for a multitouch user interface to Apple.

The patent  was filed in 2007 and is for a method of interacting with a webpage or other screen element using one or more fingers.

Basically it would mean that if your software used a one finger to scroll and another to pinch or zoom on certain details within that page or element, you will owe Apple some cash.

The worry is that the patent is so broad that you could land a 747 sideways on it and could be used by Jobs’ Mob to stop its smartphone market share being wiped out by Android.

According to PC Magazine,  the patent gives Apple ownership of the capacitive multi-touch interface. It warns that Apple will use the patent to bully Android rivals and it is predicting a huge number of patent litigation against Research in Motion, HTC, Samsung, Motorola,Nokia and ” Uncle Joe Cobbly ‘n all”

The patent seems broad enough to cover any mobile device with an interface that incorporates the finger movements so that means all tablet manufacturers may have to write a cheque to Apple.

In the Tame Apple Press, patent experts admitted that the patent may be a bit broad, but companies would have to bend to the will of Steve Jobs and surrender all hopes that Android might do better. Well, they have used words to that effect. Basically, according to MacWorld,  wide open patents like this create uncertainty, which generally leads to negotiations and writing of cheques with Steve Jobs’ name on them. 

3DS tickles TechEye's memory circuits

TechEye got a Nintendo 3DS sample unit to play with last week, over half a year after first manhandling it at the Gamescom show in Cologne. It has to be said, playing with Nintendogs and brawling through Streetfighter managed to make us feel 13 again.

Alas, Pilotwings Resort failed to tickle the tastebuds as flying games simply aren’t this reviewer’s cup of tea – apart from if you can blow the bejeezus out of little pixel soldiers. Does anyone here remember Wings of Fury for the Amiga?

Anyway, the 3DS came in a nice fancy box including the console, power cable, ear phones, a docking bay, six AR cards and a 2GB Toshiba SD card. Oh yes, a manual was naturally included, too. Charging the 3DS requires placing it in the docking bay, which is hooked up to the wall socket. You know you’re all set to go when the charger LED stops glowing.

Hey ho, and off we go. We shove a game card into the correct hole on the 3DS’ rear end, also home to a small place for the touch pen. An L and R button are also placed on its backside, firmly entrenching the game slot and pen hole. On the front there are no surprises, two pads on the left and the obligatory XYAB buttons on the right. Select, home and start buttons are positioned below the touchscreen.

3DS backside

First time turning it on, the unit asked us to calibrate the 3D effect to a setting which wouldn’t hurt the eyes, our give us an epileptic fit. After that, the unit asks its owner to set the country, date and asks if parental controls are desired, or not.

3D photos can also be shot using the rear lense, although the quality isn’t all that great as can be seen below in this photo of my sock. Nonetheless, pics do look rather good in full 3D on the console’s panel. Using the slider, the overlaying images can be shoved apart resulting in a schizo fix.

One right sock shot with internal rear camera

Right sock tape slip

But what about the games? 

Well, TechEye received three launch titles as above. All three were rather good.

There was a slight naming mishap in Nintendogs, where we accidentally named a puppy “Guttenberg”, after Germany’s former defense minister who had to resign last week, instead of “Gutenberg” as in Johannes Gutenberg, the man who invented the printing press. Isn’t he sweet?

Guttenberg the mutt

Nonetheless, Guttenberg was lovingly petted, taken for walkies and played with for a good hour until he went to bed.

Face Raiders was the first game TechEye had a go on, a preinstalled augmented reality (AR) game requiring the player to make a snapshot of him- or herself using the internal camera on the front.

The mugshot is saved and then featured on round flying balls, which float around the room displayed by the 3D camera module on the rear panel. Users may find it fun to hit themselves in the face, less stable sorts may experience terrifying bouts of paranoia. 

Hitting myself, the endboss

Nintendo’s 3DS comes with further AR games preinstalled, requiring users to place an AR card on a table to act as an anchor in reality for the unit. This hack found himself having to move around his desk to hit targets popping up from his desk right around the card.

On the hardware side of things, controlling and playing games is a wonderful affair, as can be expected from Nintendo.

One problem was that the hinge for the upper screen appeared to be a bit weak, as it flopped one step back while TechEye tryed to navigate a plane through hoops in Pilotwings Resort.

The major question is: will the very good autosteroscopic 3D screen be enough to top the ranks of consumers wish lists? It will certainly score high for younger age groups, but this year will also see smartphones with autostereoscopic displays sporting higher resolutions and better graphics. Wealthy adults may dismiss the 3DS as a gimmick, though we’d disagree.

Actually, Nintendo’s newest offspring is a ton of fun.

Apart from the touch-screen controls, the two main selling points for the 3DS are that it is the only unit out there on the market that currently features an autostereoscopic screen – and the games. Games sell consoles, not the flashiest graphics, as Sony and Microsoft had to learn bitterly last time around.

Sony may be releasing the PSP2, but Nintendo is bound to thrash it in terms of sales, despite again having the lower spec hardware.

3D adds a lot to the immersive quality of games, especially when they are addictive titles such as Zelda, Super Mario, or Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid. It will also be interesting to see how and if other games will make use of AR, as this offers an even higher degree of immersion.

Console makers will face an up-hill battle in the short to middle term. Handset makers will too, despite not fully sharing the demographic. In the short to mid term, we can expect the 3DS to find its place in the rucksacks of many kids, next to an iPhone or Android handset.

Long term predictions are hard to make. Nintendo has a great brand and broad legacy, but the market is charging full steam ahead and will be entirely different in years to come due to the convergence of various devices into one handset. Nintendo is already cleverly adapting, being first to market with a handheld console featuring full autostereoscopic 3D.

In future, Nintendo will probably develop AR features and games more deeply and integrate it into upcoming systems, if not even base them entirely around AR.

One thing is certain – the 3DS is set to be another success story for Nintendo and unit sales will make the company’s shareholders very happy, at least for the time being.

Streetfighter on the dock

Sony confirms next gen portable gaming by Christmas

Following in the footsteps of Nintendo’s 3DS, probably, Sony has announced that it will be showing off its own next-gen portable device in 2011. It is code named, imaginatively, “Next Generation Portable”.

Taking a cue from the rise in iOS games and the incredible wide-reaching popularity of Nintendo’s portable, the device will have a five inch LED touch screen display. There will be front and rear touch panels, according to Nikkei (subscription), and 3G connectivity – we guess for crap and casual mobile internet, probably not for gaming. Pricing has not been announced but Sony hopes to put out the product by Christmas.

Speaking as a first generation PSP owner, following its debut the most appealing feature wasn’t intentional and it certainly wasn’t the games at launch. It was the lively homebrewing scene which saw emulator ports to NES games etc., and a tide of fun customisation options: live radio, digital radio, better browsers and the rest of it. Sony wasn’t a fan and quickly tried to step past the homebrew community with frequent Firmware updates but fortunately developers were ready to keep one step ahead.

Its next generation portable console may well have plenty to offer against, for example, the 3DS. But since the Gameboy, with the exception of the doomed Virtual Boy, Nintendo has been the leader in portable gaming, trouncing its competition from Neo Geo and Sega to name a few. Now it has real competition from the mobile space, where the iPhone is doing what the nGage was never close to. The rise of casual, portable gaming in an all-in-one device has changed the landscape, and with LG and Nvidia’s Optimus X on the way it will need to pull off something remarkable to make its next console work.

It has taken the mobile trend to mind, announcing Playstation Suite – an application for the Android market which promises to deliver PSX-era-esque games, available later in the year. If Sony handles this right, and ports popular Playstation games to mobile as it has done with the PSP, there’s a strong chance it is onto a winner with Android. 

Tablets cause supply concern for component makers

With the increased production expected by manufacturers of tablet PCs, concerns are being raised over the ability to meet demand of components, with the possibility of shortages.

According to sources from upstream component makers, says Digitimes, touchscreen, battery and chassis components could face the prospect of shortages once tablet shipments begin.

Touchscreens for instance will have to deal with a supply chain for mid to large-size screens which is not yet mature, leading to worries that the immature processes may cause low yield rates and tight supply.

Also, as far as batteries are concerned, though they use a similar process to notebook batteries they use a different design which will mean manufacturers need to dedicate some existing production lines – putting a strain on capacity.

Meanwhile tablet makers are expected to use metal chassis to utilise fan-less designs, the component makers, which usually manufacturer similar chassis for smartphones, may have a tough time adapting to producing mass volumes of 7 or 10-inch chassis in such a short time scale. 

This is all indicative for the manic rush within the industry to bang out new lines of devices, with most vendors planning to ship 700,000 units per quarter. Of course there are a lot of firms planning to jostle for a place alongside Apple in the relatively new market.

This all works with the proviso that just about every human on the planet is dead set on purchasing one of the fun but perhaps not functionally vital devices.   

Though with Apple’s iPad 2 imminent it is unlikely that the fervour will cease anytime soon.

Furthermore it is thought that the notebooks are likely to see price increases of around 10 percent due to supply capacity being affected by the production of tablets in the second quarter of 2011, according to Digitimes’ notebook manufacturer sources.

Due to mainstream notebook panels using 5G production lines, the same as many tablets and e-book readers, supply capacity is facing a squeeze.

It is thought that first tier brands have recently started to stockpile inventory to combat this, causing second tier notebook brands concern of purchasing panel for mainstream notebooks. 

Apparently HP already began preparation in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Scientists develop 'furry' touchscreen

Scientists at the Oksana University have developed an ingenious screen that feels soft like an animal’s fur when stroked, while responding by modifying its display depending on how the screen is touched.

Whether this new technology will render the common housecat obselete is yet to be seen, though at the very least the new touch screen will not demand food and attention all day while giving off a distinct air of superiority.

The screen is made of a vast amount of optical fibres, 0.25mm in diameter, with approximately 40,000 fibres per sq. cm.  Half of the fibres can be used to display images which are responsive to contact, with the rest of the fibres being connected to a camera that can detect timing and location of contact by sensing light as it scatters when a hand comes close to the screen.

When the screen is touched image data is manipulated in different, predefined ways.  This could mean the screen will burst into an array of colours when stroked, or a specific colour dependent on whether the contact is swift or persistent.

Scientists are apparently now in the process of adjusting a number of specifications such as fibre height in order to offer an even more ‘pleasurable experience’, according to Nikkei, so that people want to keep touching screen.