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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


New Touch Encoder Technology Makes User Experience More Intuitive Grayhill, Inc.

Designers face a myriad of options for equipment and device user interface, and each one has its place in today’s designs. Today’s sophisticated devices may have user interface panels with as many as twenty components controlling, tuning, or adjusting functions. For many devices, there is a clear advantage to Touch Encoder technology, which shrinks the user interface footprint by combining multiple devices such as touchscreens, pushbuttons, trackballs, and switches into one product—replacing all of these components with one control. Here are examples of standard widgets available to developers to customize their application (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Touch Encoder’s standard widgets for customizing the application.

Market Trends Influence Interface Options

Several trends favor the use of newer user interface technology, including Touch Encoder. First is the global nature of today’s marketplace. Manufacturers building products in one country and then selling these products globally must now support multiple languages—often from five to ten different languages per device platform. Now, device manufacturers either need to standardize legends or icons or support multiple languages on the device user interface through multiple legend variants.

Also, as device manufacturers add more functionalities and configuration options to their products, the logistics and costs required to support all of the potential product variants grow exponentially. Not only do manufacturers have to invest in the custom tooling to fabricate multiple configuration options with higher piece part costs, but they must also manage the extra production/aftermarket inventory requirements.

Finally, the widespread use of tablets and mobile telephones is changing users’ expectation of what an interface should look like. Users are demanding a touchscreen interface, even for some non-traditional applications—where people need to perform no-look operations.

Key Markets for Touch Encoders

The new Touch Encoder technology can be used in a number of markets, especially where reducing the user interface footprint is important in new designs. For example, medical device product engineers can use a Touch Encoder to simplify designs for equipment controls in ultrasound, patient transport, and sterilization equipment control applications. The accompanying photo shows an example of an ultrasound panel in which a Touch Encoder simplified the panel design by replacing existing keypads, a trackball, rotary, and pushbutton switches. (Figure 2) The Touch Encoder provides users a vivid high-resolution screen that is completely customizable, making it easier and less costly to support multiple languages.

Figure 2: On this ultrasound panel, a Touch Encoder replaced four switches, a trackball, and eight buttons.

In off-highway applications, the Touch Encoder is being used for armrest, dashboard, and marine applications where no-look operation, sealed, impact resistance, and CANbus interface is a requirement.

For the industrial market, the Touch Encoder can be used for fabrication and production assembly equipment and for surface mount technology (SMT), as well as appliances. Product development engineers in these markets tend to be cost-conscious looking for a best-valued user interface with as much functionality as possible. For them, removing multiple buttons can save costs on unit price and tooling costs. A simplified interface also helps with training, since workers do not have to navigate through a complex user interface on a cumbersome panel to operate a piece of equipment.

For the digital audiovisual market, the Touch Encoder is a better choice for those performing audio/video mixing tasks. Instead of moving between multiple switches and pushbuttons to tweak audio/video functions, sound engineers can keep their hands in one spot and perform all the functions from one control.

For the vast majority of applications, designers use a USB or CANbus protocol for communicating data between the Touch Encoder and the host processor. In off-highway, industrial and some medical devices (interventional devices, X-ray or CT scanners), a CANbus protocol is used to conveniently communicate with multiple devices on the same bus interface.

Under the Hood of New Touch Encoder Technology

New Touch Encoder technology is built to survive harsh environments without sacrificing style or functionality. The Touch Encoder uses a non-contact Hall-effect sensor to provide coded output, determining the position based on feedback from the sensor. Designed with sealed, rugged construction, it is also impact resistant and will survive environments in which other user interface devices would fail. In addition, the Touch Encoder has been engineered to have excellent haptics—providing consistent and crisp feedback to the user, and ultimately showcasing the high quality of the device or end product. The switch detent is repeatable and stable over its life in environments where it can be subjected to wide temperature ranges, electrical noise, vibration, and shock.

Ease of Development with Tablet-based Development Kits

To make the new Touch Encoder technology capable of placing so much functionality in one control, ease of application development is paramount. To achieve this goal, the Grayhill Touch Encoder uses an extremely simple tablet-based development kit that allows anyone to develop a custom interface. Industrial designers can personalize multi-touch gestures, generate images, customize the display, and trigger the logic independently, without needing a software engineer to configure the device.

Designers communicate with the Software Development Kit (SDK) through wireless technology. After receiving the development kit, designers simply unpack it and immediately get an overview of how to write a program using the application on the tablet. Within a half hour, users will be writing programs and downloading software, making the entire development process extremely comfortable.

 



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Grayhill, Inc. designs and manufacturers intuitive human interface solutions that make life simpler, safer and more efficient. Standard products include Optical & Mechanical Encoders; Multi Touch Products; Joysticks; Rotary, Pushbutton, DIP and Rotary DIP Switches; Keypads; and I/O Modules and Racks. Target markets include military, aerospace, medical, industrial and electronics industries, and defense.


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