iPhone-Style Touch on a Giant Screen

TOM SIMONITE New technology makes multitouch possible on a five-foot-wide screen only a few inches thick. The touch-sensing technology used in gadgets like the iPhone and iPad could soon be seen in screens several meters across but only a few…

TOM SIMONITE

New technology makes multitouch possible on a five-foot-wide screen only a few inches thick.

The touch-sensing technology used in gadgets like the iPhone and iPad could soon be seen in screens several meters across but only a few inches deep. Perceptive Pixel, based in New York, released a touch screen today with a diagonal dimension of 82 inches—just under seven feet—but only six inches thick.

“All of the [tablet] and phone manufacturers have settled on projected capacitance as the best way to do multitouch, but it has been really difficult to scale up,” says Jeff Han, founder of Perceptive Pixel, a company created to commercialize work on multitouch that Han began when a research scientist at New York University, where he . Projected capacitance involves sensing fingers when they distort the electric field around a transparent layer of electrodes across the surface of a screen. Scaling that up to much larger screens is challenging, because noise from the electronics in a display muddy the signal from a user’s touches.

Perceptive Pixel already makes large touch panels; some are used by broadcasters, including CNN, to display data such as weather forecasts or election results. But today these screens are relatively bulky—up to a meter deep. They sense touches using a technique known as frustrated internal reflection. It involves shining infrared light sideways through the glass surface of a display and using a camera behind the screen to track how fingers change the light’s path. The camera behind the screen needs to be a certain distance away in order to capture every touch. Perceptive Pixel has sold most of its displays to federal and defense customers that are willing to design or build rooms around the space required for such large displays.

Now the company has found a way to make projected capacitance work in much larger screens. “We developed algorithms for signal processing that can filter out that noise so you can detect the really small changes in capacitance needed to do multitouch,” says Han. “We can finally bring projected capacitance to the full-size range.” Earlier this year, Han announced a 27-inch screen that made use of this technology; improvements to the technique enabled the new 82-inch panel.

Han says this will allow much larger touch displays to appear in many more places. “This makes it possible for normal companies to use large multitouch displays for everyday work,” he says. “They are thin enough to install in any boardroom.”