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Touch-free touchscreen lets you keep your distance

27 May, 2020

The Japanese electronics manufacturer Alps Alpine has developed a non-contact technology for operating “touchscreen” control panels in situations where it is undesirable, impossible or forbidden to touch the panels. The company demonstrated the technology at the world’s largest electronics trade show, CES 2020, in Las Vegas earlier this year, and is now talking about commercialising it, possibly next year.

Touchscreens have replaced traditional mechanical switches in many applications, but there are situations where people feel uneasy about touching a panel because they are worried about who else might have touched it, or because it is dirty, or their own hands are dirty.

Visitors to medical facilities, for example, might be anxious about the risk of contracting a disease from an screen because they do not know who else has touched it. In situations such as these, touch panels can lose their convenience factor.

In Alps’ proposed touchless control panel, a sensitive capacitive sensor detects the approach of a person's hand in a series of steps. It first detects the hand when it is about 10cm away, then again when it is 5cm and 3cm away. This data is processed using an “original” algorithm to achieve various forms of control based on the position of – and gestures made by – the hand and fingers. Anyone who wants to touch and operate controls directly can still make contact with the screen.

Alps Alpine's touchless touchscreen technology senses the approach of a hand at several distances

The demonstration at CES 2020 showed how a touchless control panel could be used to regulate air-conditioning temperatures and air-flow settings, as well as adjusting lighting levels and operating curtains. What is shown on the display can change with the distance of the hand or finger, and the type of operation. Audible feedback allows intuitive operation, even fory first-time users.

Alps Alpine says that based on the positive comments it received at the show, it is now conducting market research looking at a wide range of potential applications where hygiene is required, such as medical sites and public transport. It aims to commercialise the touchless control panel “around 2021”.

The non-contact touchscreen could be used in hospitals and other locations

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