Category Archives: Touch Technology

NailO turns your thumb into a mini wireless trackpad


This wearable input device from MIT’s Media Lab is in the form of a commercialized nail art sticker.


You’ve been there before: Your arms are full and the phone rings. You put everything down only to find out that it was a telemarketer. Or, while in the middle of preparing dinner, you need to scroll down the recipe page on your tablet. With your hands a mess, you first have to wipe them off before proceeding with the instructions. Fortunately, situations like these may be a thing of the past thanks to a new project from MIT Media Lab. Led by Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, a team of researchers have developed a new wearable device, called NailO, that turns a users thumbnail into a miniature wireless trackpad.

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Resembling one of those stick-on nail accessories, NailO works as a shrunken-down trackpad that connects to a mobile device. This enables a wearer to perform various functions on a paired phone or PC through different gestures. And for the fashion-conscious, its creators envision a future with detachable decorative top membranes that are completely customizable to better coordinate with a wearer’s individual style.

Along with its use in hands-full activities like cooking or doing repairs, another potential application for the quarter-sized trackpad includes discreetly sending a quick text message in settings where whipping out a smartphone would be rude. After all, running a finger over a thumbnail is a natural occurrence, so a majority of folks would hardly notice this as a deliberate action to control a gadget.

“Fingernails are an easily accessible location, so they have great potential to serve as an additional input surface for mobile and wearable devices.”

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Crammed within the small package of the NailO lie a LiPo battery, a matrix of sensing electrodes, a Bluetooth Low Energy module, a capacitive-sensing controller, and an ATmega328 MCU. With an average power consumption of 4.86 mA, the device can wirelessly transmit data for at least two hours — an ample amount of time for those in a meeting, in class, in a movie theater, or while working around the house.

In order to get started, wearers must first power it up by maintaining finger contact with it for two or three seconds. From there, users can move their index finger up-and-down or left-and-right across its surface, guiding the mouse on its synced device. To select something onscreen, simply press down a finger as if it were a mouse or a touchscreen.

“As the site for a wearable input device, however, the thumbnail has other advantages: It’s a hard surface with no nerve endings, so a device affixed to it wouldn’t impair movement or cause discomfort. And it’s easily accessed by the other fingers — even when the user is holding something in his or her hand,” the team writes.

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For their initial prototype, the researchers built their sensors by printing copper electrodes on sheets of flexible polyester, which allowed them to experiment with a range of different electrode layouts. But in future experiments, the team notes that they will be using off-the-shelf sheets of electrodes like those found in some trackpads.

The Media Lab crew has also been in discussion with many Shenzhen-based battery manufacturers and have identified a technology that they think could yield a battery that fits in the space of a thumbnail — yet is only 0.5mm thick. In order to further develop the size of a nail art sticker, the Media Lab worked with flexible PCB factories for a slimmer and bendable prototype, which could conform to the curvature of a fingernail.

We’ll have to go out on a limb and say it: looks like this project ’nailed’ it! Want to learn more? Head over to the project’s official page here, as well as read MIT Technology Review’s latest piece on finger-mounted input devices.

ZTE’s bezel-less Nubia Z9 smartphone is powered by Atmel maXTouch


With virtual edge keys and gestures — and no borders — the Nubia Z9 delivers key functions including wake-up, screenshots, flicking, volume and much more. 


Last month, the newly-revealed ZTE Nubia Z9 lived up to its hype in China by selling out in a matter of 10 minutes. Now, the device is looking to make a similar splash here in the United States. With a super-sleek, practically bezel-less profile, it certainly stands out from other high-end smartphones on the market today with an assortment of impressive features, ranging from unique touch controls integrated into its side to a sleek metallic design.

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Currently limited to China, the high-end handset is available in two colors, black and gold, and in three models, each with different memory capacities and built-in storage configurations. The base variant, the Classic, comes with 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage, while the Elite and Exclusive both pack 4GB RAM and 64GB storage.

The dual-SIM smartphones are powered by a 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, with a 16-megapixel rear  camera and 8-megapixel front-facing selfie shooter. The Nubia Z9 includes a 5.2-inch 1080p display, driven by an Atmel maXTouch mXT336T touchscreen controller, along with software that enables users to take advantage o its edge-to-edge design. Beyond that, the device boasts a 2,900mAh battery, Android 5.0 Lollipop, as well as 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, Wi-Fi, GPS and USB.

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What truly makes this flagship gadget stand out is its bezel-free design — just 0.8mm thick — giving the illusion of a borderless display, all made possible by Atmel’s unique, proprietary single-layer pattern. mXT336T delivers these features, along with advanced algorithms and Atmel’s adaptive sensing technology to enable virtual edge keys and sliders—delivering interaction all the way to the edge of the phone.

“We selected Atmel’s innovative single-layer on-cell maXTouch solution to enable our first borderless smartphone design,” explained Ni Fei, CEO of the Nubia brand. “Atmel’s adaptive sensing and edge-sensing technology enable the innovative edge keys and gestures in our flagship nubia handset. We are thrilled to team with Atmel and look forward to delivering more unique smart phones with excellent touch performance using maXTouch solutions.”

And of course, one can’t forget the company’s Frame Interactive Technology, or FIT, which allows users to carry out various preprogrammed actions with gestures made along the beveled sides — whether that’s launching the camera, taking a screenshot or adjusting the volume.

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Given the reception to the Nubia Z9 in China, this family of gadgets will surely make for an attractive option in America as well. Those wishing to get their hands on one will have to wait for its release that is slated for sometime in Q3 of this year. The Classic edition will go for approximately $565, the Elite for $645, and $725 for the Exclusive, which also includes an integrated fingerprint sensor.

ASUS Z300 tablet is the world’s first on-cell touchscreen with active stylus pen support


The ASUS Z300 on-cell tablet provides a perfect ‘pen-to-paper’ writing experience thanks to Atmel maXTouch and maXStylus controllers.


ASUS has revealed quite a few announcements over the last couple of days at Computex 2015 including an all-in-one PC, a full-featured smartphone for selfies, a second generation ZenWatch, as well as a range of tablets in various sizes. Among those devices was the 10.1″ Z300, which features the world’s first on-cell touchscreen with capacitive active stylus pen support that enables a precise ‘pen-to-paper’ writing experience for more content generation on today’s digital world.

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To accomplish this, the company has selected Atmel’s maXTouch controllers to power the touchscreen and active stylus pen of its newly-launched tablet. The ASUS Z300 tablet’s touch display is driven by a maXTouch T-series touchscreen controller, which features a revolutionary sensing architecture that combines both mutual and self-capacitance to enhance performance.

“As a leading provider of innovative mobile devices for the worldwide market, ASUS continues to bring superior products to market,” explained Shar Narasimhan, Atmel Senior Product Manager of Touch Marketing. “The selection of Atmel’s maXTouch controllers for the industry’s first 10.1″ on-cell tablet with capacitive active stylus by ASUS is further testament that we are enabling OEMs to deliver leading-edge digital lifestyle products.”

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What’s more, the device uses one of the industry’s most advanced capacitive styli, Atmel’s maXStylus mXTS220 — the only active pen with noise immunity capable of operating in the high display noise environment emitted by ultra-thin on-cell stack-ups. Together, the maXStylus and maXTouch integrate seamlessly to create a flawless user experience in even the most demanding conditions.

“As a leading manufacturer of mobile devices, our products are only built with world-class components,” added Samson Hu, Atmel’s Corporate Vice President & GM of Mobile Product Business Unit. “Atmel’s industry-leading stylus capabilities enabled us to deliver a much thinner on-cell display stack for more elegant designs with a best-in-class active pen experience. We look forward to launching more advanced devices with intuitive human interfaces powered by Atmel.”

maXTouch U family opens up a world of possibilities for next-gen devices


This new controller family will make touchscreen devices less frustrating and more enjoyable to use.


It’s safe to say that touchscreens have surely come a long way since Dr. Samuel C.Hurst at the University of Kentucky debuted the first electronic touch interface back in 1971. Despite their ubiquity today in just about every device, the technology doesn’t seem to always work as well as it should given recent advancements. As VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi points out, displays remain frustratingly unresponsive to finger taps, consume a lot of power, and quite frankly, are still pretty bulky — until now.

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That’s because Atmel has launched a next generation of sensor chips that will pave the way to much better (and more delightful) tactile experiences for gadgets ranging from 1.2” smartwatch screens to 10.1” tablet displays. Following in the footsteps of its older siblings, the new maXTouch U family will enable optimal performance, power consumption leveraging picoPower technology, and of course, thinner screens.

More apparent than ever before, the use of touch-enabled machinery has exploded over the past five years. As a result, there has been an ever-growing need to develop touchscreens with extremely high touch performance, ultra-low power and more sophisticated industrial designs with thinner screens. Not to mention, the anticipated surge in wearables has also created a demand for extremely small touchscreen controllers with ultra-low power consumption in tiny packaging. Luckily, this is now all possible thanks to the maXTouch U family which crams pure awesomeness in a 2.5-millimeter by 2.6-millimeter space (WLCSP).

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Designers can now build extremely innovative thin and flexible touchscreen designs using single layer, on-cell and hybrid in-cell touchscreens with intelligent wake-up gestures and buttons. What this means is that, the technology can support entry-level smartphones, slick wearable gizmos, super tablets and everything in between on a full range of stack-ups.

Among the most notable features of the U include low power modes down to 10µW in deep sleep for wearables such as smartwatches, active stylus support, 1.0-millimeter passive stylus support (so users can write with things like pencils on a touchscreen), as well as up to a 20-millimeter hover distance (so that a user can answer their phone call with a wet hand). What’s more, the touch controllers can sense water and reject it as a touch action, and works with multiple fingers — even if someone is wearing gloves.

Binay Bajaj, Atmel Senior Director of Touch Marketing, explains that the recently-revelaed series provides all the necessary building blocks for futuristic mobile gadgetry. The chips are available in samples today, while production versions will be ready in the third and fourth quarters.

“Our expertise in ultra-low power MCUs and innovative touch engineering have allowed us to bring a superior series of devices to market that is truly an innovative collection to drive next-generation touchscreens. We are a leading provider of touchscreen devices to a variety of markets adopting capacitive touchscreens,” Bajaj adds.

Let’s take a closer look at the six new maXTouch U devices:

  • mXT735U is the perfect device for the entry level tablet delivering robust moisture support and excellent noise immunity for touchscreens up to 10.1″.
  • mXT640U supports touchscreens up to 6 inches. This device supports 1mm passive stylus support and thin stack support including 0.4mm cover lens for GFF stack, up to 25mm hover detection and moisture resistance.
  • mXT416U delivers extremely high touch performance including 2.5mm passive stylus, excellent moisture support, noise immunity and up to 30mm large finger touch detection.
  • mXT336U is targeted for mid-range smartphone applications, delivering a perfect balance between performance and form factor.
  • mXT308U is geared towards low-end smartphone applications emphasizing simplicity and robustness.
  • mXT144U is designed specifically for wearable applications. The mXT144U features picoPower with 10uW in deep sleep mode and is the smallest hybrid sensing touchscreen controller packaged in a 2.5mm x 2.6mm WLCSP. This device is the ideal solution for today and tomorrow’s wearable devices.

Creating a capacitive iPad cover with Bare Conductive


INKO is part capacitive cover, part keyboard and a whole lot of awesome. 


If you’re the owner of an iPad and have long been searching for a cover that offered a bit more functionality, you’re in luck. Designed by Alexandre Echasseriau, INKO is both a capacitive cover and a keyboard. The device is comprised of conductive paint injected into a leather sleeve that is capable of transmitting a signal from the keyboard to the iPad via a mini Bluetooth antenna.

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Unveiled earlier this spring at the 2015 Saint Etienne Biennale, INKO combines fine leather craftsmanship along with Bare Conductive’s Electric Paint and Touch Board (ATmega32U4) to transform an ordinary protective shield into a working touchpad. The idea was first conceived as a way to incorporate a printed circuit board within the hide in order to establish an electrical connection that could relay a signal to its accompanying mobile device.

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Initially, tattoo artist Jéremy Lorenzato was tasked with injecting the Electric Paint into the thickness of the material. However, after determining that manually inking the hide was not suitable for the project, the process was eventually replaced by a system dubbed “Tatoué,” the brainchild of French design group Appropriate Audiences. (You may recall the team and their hacked machine from last year.) The Maker trio had modded a MakerBot Replicator to create an automated tattoo “printer” that could etch permanent artwork on human skin, and now leather as well.

Meanwhile, the actual shape of the cover/keyboard was formed in a matter of just one step by leather worker David Rosenblum by employing an embossing technique to achieve that “keystroke” feel.

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“I really wanted to explore the potential of Electric Paint. Tattooing the paint rather than screen printing or painting opened up an opportunity to create a sustainable and robust PCB circuit,” Echasseriau told Bare Conductive in a recent interview. “The luck was that after a little dilution, the paint could be perfectly tattooed and conducts very well.”

Intrigued? Head over to INKO’s official page here.

Bare Conductive introduces its Touch Board Starter Kit


Bare Conductive’s Touch Board Starter Kit hits the MoMA Design Store.


You may have noticed that our good friends at Bare Conductive were absent from their usual spot within the Atmel Maker Faire booth, and with good reason. That’s because they were busy in New York City for the launch of their brand-spanking new Touch Board Starter Kit at the MoMA Design Store.

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The all-in-one DIY box contains everything a Maker could possibly need to begin transforming things within their environment into touch sensors. The plug-and-play Starter Kit is comprised of an ATmega32U4 based Touch Board, some Electric Paint, other essential components like a microSD card, a USB cable and alligator clips, as well as a growing range of tutorials, visual guides and examples.

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What’s nice is that the MCU comes preprogrammed to trigger MP3 tracks, something that will be ideal for absolute beginners and young Makers as they explore one of three featured projects: interactive wall graphics, voice-activated objects and motion-detecting alarms.

Intrigued? Head over to Bare Conductive’s official page to get started.

Universal Stylus Initiative launches to create a specification for an active stylus


The USI is working to develop and promote an industry specification for a cross-system active stylus.


Prominent OEMs, stylus and touch controller manufacturers have announced the launch of Universal Stylus Initiative (USI), a new organization formed to develop and promote an industry specification for an active stylus.

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Atmel is joined by a number of founding members including Intel, Lenovo, Sharp, Synaptics, Dell, among several other major names in the industry. USI technology looks to enable interoperable communication between an active stylus and touch-enabled devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computing and entertainment platforms from numerous manufacturers, allowing consumers to seamlessly write or draw on different devices with one high-quality stylus that delivers a realistic pen-on-paper experience. The group expects to publish the initial version of the USI specification in the third quarter of 2015.

“This will be a game changer,” Patrick Hanley, Atmel Product Marketing Manager, tweeted.

This specification will make it possible for manufacturers to design products to a single standard, rather than the variety of proprietary approaches now in use, and it will be compatible with current notebook computer operating system requirements. USI seeks to provide a consistent user experience while increasing the availability and consumer appeal of the active stylus, through providing industry-wide interoperability and adding functions and features not supported by current styluses.

As a leading provider of touch solutions, we identified a need to develop a standardized specification for an active stylus across multiple platforms,” added Stan Swearingen, Atmel SVP, CTO and GM of Touch Business Unit. “As a founding member of Universal Stylus Initiative, we partnered with 11 other companies to define and drive a ubiquitous standard across platforms with capacitive touchscreens. We are excited to launch this new initiative and standardized specification, and believe it will drive more active styluses into the market, creating an evolution of touchscreen devices into content creation devices.”

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Features of the USI specification include the method by which the stylus communicates with content creation devices and provides additional information such as stylus pressure levels, button presses, erasing, and other features. Through the same sensor that one’s finger uses to command a device, the stylus communicates via different frequencies to perform the action of writing — writing with up to 2048 different levels of pressure to give the pen-on-paper experience and render thinner or thicker lines in note-taking, painting and doodling, just like an ink pen.

“The market has sorely been needing a universal communication standard for active stylus,” explained Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research. “To date the market has been limited by proprietary touch controller-stylus solutions, which limits OEM choices and cost reductions. With the USI specification released, we expect that the capacitive active stylus market will grow from 100 million units in 2015 to 300 million units in 2018, opening up new markets such as smartphones and all-in-one PCs.”

Want to learn more? Head over to USI’s official website here.

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