Signs point up for touch input

  • 12-Jul-2010 09:13 EDT

Microchip upgraded its mTouch and controller lines to make it easier for automakers to add touch input to their HMIs.

Touch-screen input is rapidly becoming a mainstay in automotive human/machine interfaces (HMIs), prompting component makers to beef up their development efforts. Analysts predict that demand for touch screens will outpace voice over the next few years.

In recent months, Cypress Semiconductor Corp. began shipping automotive-quality touch screens and controllers, while Atmel also unveiled controllers for this market. Microchip Technology Inc. also expanded its automotive controller efforts with chips and tools.

The moves come amid signs of steady growth. As LCDs (liquid crystal displays) emerge as center console displays, touch screens are outpacing highly touted voice controls.

Strategy Analytics predicts that the total OEM demand for automotive touch-screen displays will reach $1.7 billion in 2015. That is half a billion more than voice input predictions for that year.

Other analysts are equally bullish on growth. DisplaySearch predicts that automotive touch-screen volume will reach 400 million units in 2016, more than doubling the 180 million units shipped last year.

“Touch is growing very rapidly,” said Jennifer Colegrove, Director of Display Technologies at DisplaySearch. ”Sizes from 5 to 9.9 inches will be the most popular. There will be some larger displays, but they will amount to very tiny volumes.”

A range of new products should make it simpler for engineers to get touch systems into market with lower costs tied to volume production. For example, Atmel said its 11-key capacitive touch controller is a drop-in part for applications as diverse as navigation, window and mirror control, and keyless remote entry.

Cypress has qualified its TrueTouch touch screen and CapSense touch-sensing controllers for the market, offering touch-sensitive screens that measure up to nine inches. The products leverage capacitive technology’s ability to detect a human finger before the input screen is touched. When a finger is within 25 cm (9.8 in), the touch screen will power up, conserving power compared to systems that don’t have similar sleep modes.

Cypress is also setting the stage for high-volume production. It signed a pact with Grace Semiconductor of Shanghai, China, which will fabricate controllers that meet AEC-Q100 requirements.

Microchip last month expanded its mTouch capacitive touch-sensing technology with parts that can be used with a metal front panel. The line also senses through gloves, something many sensors can’t do.

At the same time, Microchip also expanded its PIC24FJ256DA line of 16-bit processors. Peripherals for capacitive touch sensing are provided as are three graphics acceleration units and a display controller. A new mTouch Cap Touch evaluation kit now includes a board for implementing capacitive touch sensing.

In yet another sign of increased interest in touch, National Semiconductor enhanced its serializer/deserializer line to enable faster response times for touch-screen displays. National’s FPD-Link III chips are used to connect graphics host processors with displays used for center stacks, rear-seat entertainment, and navigation.

DisplaySearch's Colegrove predicted that resistive films will be the dominant technology in cars due to their low cost. However, she noted that capacitive displays are making solid inroads.

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