Consumer Electronics Show 2001

MicroTouch Touchscreens

Part of the revolving MicroTouch display
Part of the revolving MicroTouch display
Photo courtesy MicroTouch

One of the coolest booths at the CES was MicroTouch's revolving "Touch in Your World" exhibit. The display demonstrated how MicroTouch's partners include the company's touchscreen technology in their innovative products. The Electrolux/Ericsson's ScreenFridge Internet Appliance, with its electronic home center features (shown in the picture below) was a show-stopper. Other touch partners' devices on display were frontpath's ProGear wireless Web pad, IBM's SurePOS 500 point-of-sale register, Gateway's Touch Pad, goReader's e-textbook, NCR's Web Kiosk, uWink's WallRus gaming device, Pioneer POS's StealthTouch kiosk, and ICS-Olivetti's ModiFon Web phone.

MicroTouch Systems, Inc., founded in 1982, has become the world's leading manufacturer of computer touchscreen technology. They have recently joined with 3M, one of the top technology companies in the world. MicroTouch makes two different types of touchscreen -- analog capacitive and resistive membrane. Both technologies use thin glass panels that are positioned between a CRT/LCD display and the user. The touchscreen is so discrete that most people don't realize they're not actually touching the display.

A portable touchscreen device using a MicroTouch resistive touchscreen A portable touchscreen device using a MicroTouch resistive touchscreen
A portable touchscreen device using a MicroTouch resistive touchscreen
Photo courtesy MicroTouch

Capacitive screens read touch by interpreting disturbances in a voltage field. A low level electrical current is applied from all four corners of the screen, creating a uniform voltage field. When you put your finger on the screen, you draw from the electrical current, and the touchscreen controller recognizes a touch. This draw of electricity (your finger touching the screen) pulls from each of the screen's four corners. The voltage -- the electrical potential difference, or "electrical pressure" -- changes at each corner, in proportion to the distance between the corner and the point of contact. With this information, the touchscreen controller can calculate the exact coordinates of the touch. Touchscreen software then interprets these coordinates, so the computer application can register the touch as a mouse click.

MicroTouch resistive touchscreens. MicroTouch resistive touchscreens.
MicroTouch resistive touchscreens.
Photo courtesy MicroTouch

Resistive touchscreens work when pressure is applied to the screen surface. The touch makes a connection between two conductive coated screen layers, separated by non-conductive spacer dots. When the user applies a finger or stylus to the screen, it pushes the conductive-coated polyester top sheet down to the conductive-coated glass layer. This completes an electrical circuit between the two layers at that particular point. The system relays the point of the connection to the controller and a touch is recognized.

Touchscreens have a number of unique qualities that are useful in a wide range of applications. These benefits include:

  • Ease of use -- People interact with touch screens using a basic, intuitive system -- you touch areas of a screen you want to activate. Even people who are extremely uncomfortable working with personal computers will usually know what to do with a touch screen. This means less training time is required for touchscreen systems than for keyboard-driven systems.
  • Durability -- MicroTouch offers a number of heavy-duty touchscreens that hold up even when exposed to heavy wear-and-tear and excessive grime. This makes the company's touchscreen technology an ideal choice for computer systems used in industrial manufacturing plants. Traditional keyboards are easily damaged in these environments, but touch screens hold up. Because of this resistance to abuse, MicroTouch touchscreens are also a good choice for unattended systems, such as automatic teller machines and museum displays.
Touchscreen technology is extremely easy to use. Touchscreen technology is extremely easy to use.
Touchscreen technology is extremely easy to use.
Photo courtesy MicroTouch

In addition to these applications, MicroTouch screens work well for gaming systems, informational kiosks, and cashier stations. Some screens also capture writing, which is useful for all sorts of business applications. For example, doctors can use these touchscreens to approve prescriptions online, saving their patients time and energy.

MicroTouch sells capacitive and resistive screens that can be integrated with computer displays, as well as pre-assembled touchscreen monitors. To learn more about touchscreen applications, and to see MicroTouch's full line of products, check out