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Timothy Hoye ( and Joseph Kozak (

Abstract - In todays society, the way in which we physically interact with electronic devices is changing how we focus our technological research. This change has led to many great advances, including the development of touch screen technology. Through the use of touch screen technology, the operator is given an alternative method of how he or she can interact with a device. This technology operates in three distinct ways: resistive systems, capacitive systems, and infrared systems. This paper will investigate, discuss, and compare these different technologies, focusing on the differences in application, aspects of sustainability, as well as the positive and negative qualities.


Dr. Andrew Hsu, an expert on touch screen technologies, states that IR (infrared) screens are among the most durable surfaces and can handle hostile environments, making them well suited for military applications[3]. Although we will not be focusing on the technology in terms of military applications, we can see that infrared touch screen technologies, while being the most durable surfaces, are also quite possibly the most versatile. This versatility comes from having two variant systems of infrared touch screen. The first system is similar to resistive systems, which will be discussed later, in that it consists of a two dimensional grid of infrared light. In this technology, infrared LEDs (light emitting Key Words Capacitive, Infrared, Multi-Touch, Resistive, diodes) are arranged on opposite sides of the unit underneath Sustainability, Touch Screens the glass. The diodes project infrared light into sensors located directly across from them. The sensors read the A BRIEF HISTORY OF TOUCH SCREENS strength of the beams, and when a user makes contact with the screen, the system measures the drop in the sensorThroughout the past century, technology has improved in output signal; this measurement allows the system to many ways. The way in which humans interact with compute the location of the touch [3]. This is to say that technology is one of the most important ways technology is when the finger touches the screen, the infrared beams are changing. By using touch screen technology, the user is able obstructed by the users finger; however, some light to manipulate a digital environment by only the touch of continues to pass to the sensor. The sensors send the their finger, or another input device, on the screen. measurements of light to the operating system, which Throughout this paper we will discuss the different analyzes the data and recognizes where the user touched. technologies that make this possible: infrared, resistive, and This technology has multi-touch capability because the capacitive touch screens, as well as their qualities in modern beams of light are never fully obstructed by the users touch. devices. The second type of infrared system requires more Touch screen technology first entered the public eye in space than the first. This system is based upon internal 1971, with the invention of the Elograph, by Elographics, reflection; a beam of light is emitted from within the unit, Inc [1]. This company was created to produce Graphical hits the glass, and part of the beam exits through the lens Data Digitizers for use in research and industrial while the other part goes back into the unit. Cameras are applications [1]. This technology set the stage for many placed inside the unit and are calibrated to the standard devices to come. One of the next devices to be invented was reflection to the beams so that, when objects such as fingers the HP-150, the first touch screen computer. Hewlett touch the surface, the light diffuses at the contact point, Packard invented this device in 1983 [2]. This technology is causing the acrylics internal-reflection pathways to change. important because it had infrared touch-screen capability, A camera below the surface captures the diffusion and sends allowing for creation of ATM-like applications [2]. These the information to image-processing software, which can are two of the most important devices in the development of read multiple touches simultaneously and translate them into touch screen technology. As time progressed, touch screen a command [4]. In the example stated, the screen is an devices have become increasingly more complex and acrylic screen rather than standard glass, allowing for a sustainable, providing the user with greater accuracy and thinner lens that is just as durable, cheaper, and more more features to improve the quality of life. resilient. Advances are being made in internal reflection systems INFRARED TOUCH SCREENS to make the instruments much smaller. One of these The first type of touch screen technology we shall discuss is advancements, called ThinSight, is a thin form-factor based upon infrared light. There are two main infrared interactive surface technology based on optical sensors systems: a standard grid and an internal reflection system. embedded inside a regular liquid crystal display [5]. These systems are very accurate; however, they require more ThinSight will allow a row of circuitry that possesses hundreds of small infrared LEDs, similar to the emitters and space than other touch screen systems. sensors, used in standard infrared systems. These sensors University of Pittsburgh April 10, 2010 TENTH ANNUAL FRESHMAN CONFERENCE 1

and emitters are much smaller and would cover a much smaller area of the screen. Traditional internal reflection system only required four or five emitters and cameras. Thinsight technology is still in development; however, it is believed that these advancements could make infrared touch screen technology much smaller. The advancements would also cause the system to be more available for future consumer touch screen devices.

application buttons, paint across the screen, and further interact with the Surface. Blobs are generic objects that are given a circular or oval reading with a major and minor axis. Blobs include inanimate objects like paper or other pieces of technology like smart phones or cameras [7]. Microsoft products, like the Microsoft Zune music player, can interact with the Surface just by laying Zune upon the top of the screen. Multiple Zunes can interact with one another using the Surface as an intermediary, transferring songs from one to another. Cameras and phones can also perform similar tasks with contacts, pictures, maps, and many other pieces of data. Microsoft has been initially selling Surface to Starwood Hotels for guest check in, Harrahs Entertainment for video gambling, and T-Mobile for providing customers with technical information about the companys mobile phones [4]. The Surface allows for the use of tagged items, specific to where the device is located. Tagged items could include gambling chips at a Harrahs Casino or an electric keycard at a Starwood Hotel. The tagged items give the Surface very specific data, which includes the facing direction of the object as well as electric data on the tagged item itself [7].


Microsoft Surface As mentioned above, the Microsoft Surface is a great example of internal reflection infrared touch screens. In early 2001, Steve Bathiche of Microsoft Hardware and Andy Wilson of Microsoft Research began brainstorming concepts for an interactive table, beginning the development of the Surface [6]. The process continued in development until 2003 when the idea was presented to Bill Gates, and 85 prototypes were created for developers on the Surface Computing group, a group created in 2004 to solely develop the Surface. In 2005, various prototypes were created and analyzed, and eventually, in 2008, the Microsoft Surface was on sale to the public for $12,500 or $15,000 [6]. The Surfaces technology uses multiple image sensors around one side of the touch surface and IR backlights on the other side. When a user places his finger on the surface, intercepting the infrared beam, the device projects a shadow. Using multiple cameras, the unit converts this shadow into a touch point through triangulation [3]. As stated by Dr. Hsu, the Surface uses a system of cameras and IR LEDs to capture the image of the object touching the surface. The Surface took a step forward with their technology, developing a special motherboard to compute the data, transmitted at 100 megabytes per second, from the cameras. The board then divides the data into sections that decide what is relevant and what is not. Relevant data is considered to be any information from the cameras that has changed since the last transmission. An example of that is the shadow from the infrared light changing as someone touches the screen. This software is also revolutionary in that it detects and distinguishes different types of touches. The Surface categorizes touches into three sets: finger, blob, and tagged objects. Fingers are given the ability to click on software University of Pittsburgh


Through previous advances in touch screen technology, Microsoft took a step forward in infrared systems with their Surface. The Surfaces starting price is $12,500. This high cost makes the Surface inaccessible to personal consumers, and is therefore marketed toward corporations or companies.


Resistive touch screen systems are the most common type of touch screen technology in todays market. These devices are used in many applications, such as cell phones, handheld games, GPS navigation devices, and even some digital cameras [3]. The resistive touch screen technology operates in a very simple way. These screens are built using two layers of the conductive material Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), separated April 10, 2010



by a small gap of air [3]. The bottom layer is generally on glass, and the top on a flexible material, often plastic [8]. When the user presses down on the top ITO layer, it physically bends to make contact with the bottom ITO layer, changing the resistance of the two layers [8]. A typical resistive touch screen uses 4 wires, 2 of them on each panel. As seen in Figure 3, each panel corresponds to a different axis. These perpendicular axes allow the computer to take the measurements of the change in resistance from each panel, and calculate the position of the touch point from its X and Y components [3].

due to the slight electromagnetic charge contained in the human body [8]. These changes in capacitance are measured and calculated as touch points in a very similar way to resistive touch screens, by using the X and Y components.


Surface Capacitive Touch Screens Surface capacitive is another form of capacitive touch screen technology. The primary difference between surface capacitive and projected capacitive is that surface capacitive uses only one ITO surface [3]. This layer calculates touch points using principles that are very similar to projected capacitive touch screens, in that touch points are observed by changes in capacitance if the ITO layer in the touch screen. However, these touch points are measured in a very different way. The computer measures the change in capacitance from each corner of the ITO layer, and with these 4 separate measurements, the X and Y coordinates of the touch point are calculated [3]. Multi-Touch Technology An important feature of capacitive touch screens is their ability to recognize and calculate multiple touch points at one time, commonly called multi-touch. Multi-touch technology has been around since early research at the University of Toronto in 1982 [4]. The uses of this technology are very vast, allowing for greater humancomputer interaction. This technology is traditionally associated with capacitive touch screens, but is not limited to this technology. It can also be found in infrared touch screens and is beginning to appear in resistive touch screens [3]. Currently, multi-touch technology is being used with a purpose similar to the function keys (Control, Alt, Option, Command, etc.) on a standard keyboard. By adopting these functions, the user is able to complete the same tasks as before, but with one hand. With advances in hardware, multi touch will allow multiple users to access the same device simultaneously, like the Microsoft Surfaces capability of 300 plus touches. While the hardware is available to create such devices, software implementation is holding back the growth of multi touch. April 10, 2010



Capacitive touch screens are very important within the field of touch screen technology. In the early 1990s, this technology made its initial appearance into the touch screen market in laptop computers, as touch pads [3]. Recently, capacitive popularity has grown, as it has become one of the leading technologies used in touch screen devices. In 2001, it began appearing in consumer devices, such as MP3players and smart phones [3]. This increase in attention is likely due to the effectiveness of its design, its use of multitouch technology, and the popularity of Apple products using this technology: iPod Touch, iPhone and most recently the iPad. [9]. Projected Capacitive Touch Screens The design of projected capacitive touch screens is somewhat similar to that of resistive touch screens, in that they both utilize 2 layers of ITO, with perpendicular conductive measuring strips on the ends of each layer [8], which are encased between two glass layers (See Figure 4). This grid, formed by the perpendicular conductive layers, projects the electric field through the top layer of glasshence the name projected capacitive touch screens [8]. Because of this projection, when the user touches the top layer of glass it changes the measured capacitance values of the electrodes closest to it [3]. This change in capacitance is University of Pittsburgh



Apple Apple Corporation is a pioneer in the field of consumer electronics. With their innovative designs, Apple products have been setting new standards to which other technology is compared. In 2007, Apple revealed the iPhone, changing the face of telecommunications and touch screen technology [10]. This device was revolutionary because it incorporated a cell phone, iPod, and Internet communications device, making it the only electronic device you need [11]. Apple also created a version of this device to be the next generation of iPod, called the iPod Touch or the iTouch. It is very similar to the iPhone, except for the difference that it does not have cell phone capabilities. For our purposes, these devices will be described as interchangeable, because they both rely on the same touch technology and the same userinterface [9].

manipulate documents, images, and other files with motions that feel like the task actually being completed, the user is able to work more efficiently and with less specific training or knowledge. Apple recently announced their next step in the field of touch screen technology: the iPad. Little is known about this device, aside from general technical descriptions of what it can do, and its 9.7-inch multi-touch display [9]. It can be assumed that it operates very similarly to that of the iPhone and iPod touch. This device was designed to browse the web, read and send email, view photos, movies, listen to music, play games, and read e-books, among many other things [13]. With these tasks in mind, the iPad is creating a new market for touch screen devices, much as the iPhone changed the mobile phone industry. By integrating innovative hardware, and creating arguably the most intuitive user interface available, Apple continues to raise the bar for all of their competitors in the consumer touch screen industry.


The two types of infrared systems are internal reflection and infrared grid. Infrared grids systems are reliable and can be manufactured inexpensively into appropriate sizes. Due to the grid of lasers and sensors, users do not need to press fully down on the screen putting less wear on screen increasing the life expectancy of the unit. The grid also increases the precision of the users touch. Internal reflection systems are large systems because of the space required for cameras to accurately measure the shadow produced by the infrared LEDs. The large space required for larger instruments does make internal reflection devices the most accurate touch screen technology. Units like the Microsoft Surface, the leading internal reflection device, are also able to increase their multi-touch capabilities to 300 plus touches. Resistive touch screen technology is the cheapest of the different types of touch screens; however, there are a few drawbacks. The first problem with this technology is the flexibility of the top layer of screen. This causes the ITO coating to crack due to the continual stretching and retracting of the flexible later [3]. This wear also relates to the air gap between the ITO layers. This gap allows dirt and dust to collect between the two conductive surfaces, making the display appear dirty. Additionally, these devices are less than ideal for harsh environments, due to the fact that they are vulnerable to temperature and humidity changes, which would affect the accuracy of the touch screen [3]. This is not to say that they do not perform consistently under standard conditions. One benefit of this technology is that the user is able to use his or her finger or a stylus as input devices [3]. Overall, resistive touch screens perform very well, considering that they are the cheapest of the different touch screens. April 10, 2010


The iPhone and iTouch both use a projected capacitive touch screen, and are often used as examples in comparing projected capacitive technology to other touch screen technologies [10]. The patent application for this system is where most of our knowledge of the screen is from. It describes two different types of touch technology, selfcapacitance and mutual capacitance [12]. Self-capacitance is a simple passive array of 2436 sensing electrodes in a single plane [12]. Mutual capacitance, on the other hand, works much more like other capacitive touch screens. By setting two layers on top of each other, aligning the measuring strips perpendicular to each other, and calculating the touch point based on the X and Y coordinate of the touch, greater accuracy is achieved [10]. Another technologically relevant aspect of the iPhone is its use of multi-touch input, which allows for 15 touches at a time [12]. It is with this technology that the iPhone and iPod touch revolutionized the touch screen industry. These devices are important to the development of touch screen technology, because of their superior user interface (UI). There are six main functions of the iPhones touch screen: Single tap to select or activate something, double tap to change the display format, drag and drop to move something, a stroke (swipe or flick) up/down/left/right to scroll, pinching two fingers together to shrink something, and spreading two fingers apart to enlarge something [10]. These intuitive controls have set a new precedent for all user interfaces. By being able to University of Pittsburgh



Capacitive touch screens are very common in many consumer devices. Although there are two different types of capacitive touch screens, their performance is very similar, with the exception that projected capacitive touch screens are a little more accurate than surface capacitive touch screens, but this difference is relatively negligible. An important feature of this technology is its use and application of multi-touch gestures. This is because less force is required to maintain a touch point, making dragging and zooming items much easier. However, a drawback of this technology is that you can only touch the screen with your finger. This means that stylus and gloves, depending on their thickness, will not work with this technology [8]. Another drawback is the cost of the screen. These screens are more expensive than resistive touch screens [3]. Overall, capacitive touch screens are very effective in their current uses. Resistive and capacitive technologies are very similar, but also have several important differences. One of these differences is in durability and the need for calibration. In resistive touch screens, due to the deformation and warping of the ITO layer, the screens performance will be changed. This change creates a need to recalibrate the screen [8]. This problem, however, is not found in capacitive touch screens. This is because the ITO layers are less susceptible to damage. Additionally, this is capable because the system can self-calibrate for environmental changes and is better able to adapt to environmental issues than resistive technology [3]. Infrared devices also have the capability to self-calibrate for scratches because the sensors only react when something changes on the screen. A sensor would initially react to a scratch however, once the device is in rest it would read the new dimensions of the screen to be standard. This difference has a large impact on the use of each of the devices. Since capacitive and infrared devices do not need to be calibrated, they are more accurate than resistive devices after some wear. This difference between capacitive and resistive also increases because the ITO layers in resistive devices deteriorate over time. Capacitive touch screens are, therefore, more accurate and more durable than resistive touch screens. Another difference between the types of touch screens is the type of input devices allowed. In both resistive and infrared systems, you can use nearly any object to create a touch point. The only limitation on resistive systems is that the object needs to be somewhat pointed. This means that these touch screens allow for the use of fingers, a stylus, and, in infrared devices, just about any other object. This is a great benefit over capacitive touch screens, where a user can only use a finger to create touch points. The flexibility of using a stylus or finger allows for greater accuracy, and also allows the technology to be used in varied ways. The main difference between touch screen technologies is size and cost. Infrared touch screens are by far the biggest of the touch screen technologies. They are also more expensive than resistive and capacitive touch University of Pittsburgh

screens [3]. The size of resistive and capacitive touch screens is relatively similar, due to the similar nature of their technologies. However, there is quite a difference in price between these touch screens. Capacitive touch screens are more expensive than resistive touch screens because the systems of circuitry and measurement are more complex [3]. It is with these differences in mind that we discuss the applications of these technologies. Infrared touch screens are best suited to devices like the Microsoft Surface, which require a very large touch screen. While resistive and capacitive screens have the potential to be this size, they do not perform as well as the infrared technology. This is because infrared technology uses sets of infrared LEDs and either cameras or sensors to detect the changes. Having a large capacitive or resistive system would require a large amount of wire throughout the screen; wires of that size would increase the chance for malfunction in detection, as well as wear and tear. Capacitive touch screens are best suited for high end, portable electronic devices, and devices that need to perform consistently in many conditions. This is because of its durability, accuracy, multi-touch support and ease, and its aesthetically pleasing appearance. Finally, resistive touch screens are best suited for mobile applications, in which conditions will be consistent.

One definition of sustainability is the improvement of the quality of life by making life more enjoyable and less burdensome. Touch screen technology fits within this definition very well. Touch screen devices make life more enjoyable by creating a fun and intuitive user interface. This is a reason that the iPhone, iPod Touch, and similar devices are so successful. By allowing the user to operate the device in many different ways, the devices are more versatile and create a better interface for many applications. With a better interface, the devices become more enjoyable to use, and allow for other applications of the device. Sustainability also pertains to making life less burdensome. Touch screens are very sustainable because of the vast amount of applications that can be done on one device. This can be seen very easily in the iPhone and Microsoft Surface. Before the iPhone, many people carried around a cell phone, iPod, and PDA. With the implementation of a versatile touch screen, the iPhone and other touch screen devices are able to do the tasks of all three of these devices. This is because of the adaptability of the interface. The Microsoft Surface is similar to the iPhone because it makes many applications available to the user. Users are able to transfer contact information, calendars, pictures, etc. with just the touch of a finger. The sustainability aspects of both of these devices show the importance of these technologies. These devices improve the quality of life for the user by simplifying everyday tasks and making them more enjoyable for the user. April 10, 2010



For now, the latest developments in touch screen technology include what is considered as an interactive touch screenit is perceived that the screen shapes itself allowing a user to click a button. A. Peshkin and J. Edward Colgate, professors at Northwestern University, are at the forefront of this innovation. The Tactile Pattern Display, TPaD, has a small devise, piezoelectric ceramic disc that vibrates the outer most layer of glass. The vibrations through the glass create a small layer of air between the users finger and the screen itself. This changes the coefficient of friction between the finger and screen making it appear that the glass itself has changed. Peshkin and Colgate explain that, the entire plate vibrates, so the amount of friction is the same all over the TPaDs surface at any given time. But because the oscillations are modulated as your fingers position changes, the device fools you into thinking that there are varying amounts of friction at different locations. The prototype uses optical sensors to keep track of your fingers position. The friction reduction can be switched on and off so quickly (within about 4 milliseconds on average) that the pitch of virtual bumps or dips can be made far finer than what a fingertip can discern [14]. The TPaD is still in the prototype phase of development; however, it is a step forward with human interaction with technology. How far and how fast touch screen technology develops is only limited to the funding and resources available. Expect to be interacting with your devices more and more as advances are made in technology.

[5]Izadi, Shahram, et al. "ThinSight: A Thin Form-Factor Interactive Surface Technology." Association for Computing Machinery. [6]"The Origins of Microsoft Surface". Accessed 3 March 2010. [7]"The Microsoft Surface Vision System". Accessed 3 March 2010. [8] Gray, Tony. Projected Capacitive Touch Screen Technology. Ocular, Inc. Accessed 3 March 2010. [9] Accessed 3 March 2010. [10] Walker, Geoff. The Apple iPhones Impact on the Touch-Panel Industry. Information Display 5/07. Accessed 3 March 2010. [11]"Apple Reinvents the Phone with iPhone". Accessed 3 March 2010. [12] Walker, Geoff. Touch and the Apple iPhone. Veritas et Visus. Accessed 3 March 2010. [13]"Apple Launches iPad". Accessed 3 March 2010. [14]Jones, Willie D. Touch Screens with Feeling IEEE Spectrum May. 2009: 15. Accessed 3 March 2010.

Aguilar, R.N., and G.C.M. Meijer. "Fast interface electronics for a resistive touch screen." Proceedings of IEEE SENSORS 2002. 2002. Hill, Anthony. "Touch screen technologies: Their advantages and disadvantages; the guidelines offered will point you toward the best touch technology for your application needs." Control Solutions, September 2002: 24. Hoggan, Eve, Topi Kaaresoja, Pauli Laitinen, and Stephen Brewster. "Crossmodal Congruence: The Look, Feel and Sound of Touchscreen Widgets." ICMI. 2008. 157-164. Kim, Hong-Ki, et al. "Transparent and flexible tactile sensor for multi touch screen application with force sensing." Solid State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems Conference. 2009. 1146-1149. Loviscach, Jorn. "Two-Finger Input with a Standard Touch Screen." Fachbereich Elektrotechnik und Informatik, October 7-10, 2007: 169-172.


Moving towards the future, consumers will continue to see the growth of the touch screen industry, due to extensive engineering advancements in user interfaces. The ability to physically touch a screen is easier than searching for a specific key in a sea of buttons. Society, for these reasons, has found touch screens to be the future of many devices. The social norm of today includes walking down the street surfing the web on an iPhone or sifting through music on an iPod Touch. No additional buttons are necessary, just the small, portable device in ones pocket until needed. Society will continue to see the development of touch screen technology as human-device interaction is perfected.

We would like to thank Luis Bon and Rowoli ScottEmuakpor for their guidance in this project. We also thank those at the Engineering Library, Writing Center, and those involved in the Freshman Engineering Writing Program who have helped us with our research and in editing this project. We would additionally like to thank our peers in the Freshman Engineering Program, especially the SPACE Floors, for their support and assistance with the editing and revisions necessary to completing this project.

[1]Company history from Elographics to Elo TouchSystems, 1971 present - Elo TouchSystems - Tyco Electronics. Accessed 3 March 2010. [2]The HP-150. Accessed 3 March 2010. [3]Hsu, Andrew. "Choosing a touch technology for handheld-system applications." EDN, January 8, 2009: 40-44. [4]Nichols, Steven J. Vaughan New Interfaces at the Touch of a Fingertip IEEE Society August. 2007: 12-15.

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