Smarter touchscreens in the works, including one for the Apple Tablet?

01-26-10applepatentSome interesting touchscreen news to report. First is a proximity-sensing touchscreen patent just granted to Apple. Dug up by Patently Apple (by way of Engadget), this patent describes a manner of detecting proximity of an object, such as a finger or stylus, near a touchscreen.

The proximity detection system is configured to detect when an object such as a finger (or stylus) comes in close proximity to the computing device. Proximity sensing differs from touch sensing in that there is no contact. The sensing occurs above the surface of the housing. For example, the proximity detection system detects when an object such as a finger is placed in space above, and not in contact with, a surface of one or more regions of the computing device. The regions may include any side or any portion of a side of the computing device.

I find this one particularly interesting because it offers a potential way of emulating an active digitizer, which I find absolutely essential for cursor manipulation on a Tablet PC. By itself, this tech cannot offer a full Wacom-level experience since that includes pressure-sensitivity. But, taken in conjunction with the next bit of news, I think that drawback may soon be remedied.

Also on the radar, Technology Review from MIT has the scoop on new pressure-sensitive touchscreens from a UK company called Peratech.

Peratech, which was spun out of a research lab at Durham University in 1996, uses an electrically conductive material dubbed a quantum tunneling composite (QTC). Quantum tunneling occurs when electrons jump between two conductors that are brought close together, but remain separated by an insulating barrier. In Peratech’s switches, a polymer acts as the insulating layer. It is embedded with spiky, conductive metallic particles, each about 10 nanometers in size.

Oooh, “quantum tunneling”. Sounds fancy. However, I don’t think it functions much differently than the tech shown off earlier by Touchco, and Stantum is already showing off very impressive pressure-sensitive, multi-touch screens. Still, I say the more competition, the better. Only a matter of time before proximity and pressure detection become standard touchscreen element.

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