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New Tech Tuesdays: Human-Machine Interface Technologies Are Finding More Ways to Interact Tommy Cummings

New Tech Tuesdays

Join journalist Tommy Cummings for a weekly look at all things interesting, new, and noteworthy for design engineers.

The evolution of human-machine interface (HMI) solutions continues daily. The technology is enhancing human interaction with devices, opening the door for user-experience solutions that can create greater access and function.

Growing up, we got a peek at these HMI designs in science-fiction movies and TV programs. We've watched Capt. Kirk (Star Trek) voice commands into virtual assistants. We've watched Tony Stark (Iron Man) hand swipe a holographic interface into the air. We've seen Luke Skywalker (Star Wars) use neuronal control to operate a synthetic arm.

But now, we're seeing so much developing into scientific fact. Sensors featured in touch-free gesture control are found in modern vehicles and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, making us all feel like we're aboard a futuristic starship.

Design engineers are also working on making HMI functions in vehicles safer. Given the reaction time of drivers, safety must be a critical design factor, driving development in hand-detection sensors. Other applications include the detection of humans in or out of the vehicle and the detection associated with autonomous driving.

These HMI solutions and more are being used or developed today.

This week’s New Tech Tuesday will look at new products from Maxim Integrated, ams OSRAM, and Microchip Technology that target HMI development.

Sensors and an Evaluation Kit

Maxim Integrated's MAX25405 IR Gesture Sensor is a data-acquisition system for gesture and proximity sensing. The MAX25405 recognizes hand-swipe gestures, air clicks, flicks, finger and hand rotation, multizone proximity detection, and linger to click. The 4mm x 4mm device integrates a complete optical system including lens, aperture, visible light filter, and a 6x10 photodetector array. The proximity, hand detection, and gesture recognition functions operate by detecting light reflected from the controlled IR-LED light source with the integrated optical sensor array. The sensor can detect these gestures even when exposed to bright ambient light. A low-power CPU, such as the MAX32630, is required to process the data from the sensor.

The ams OSRAM AS8579 Sensor Interface is used for human-being detection and many other applications. The sensor can detect capacity changes in different applications and measure the relative change of the impedance, dependent on the circuit. The integrated circuit can capture the current of a metal object and apply algorithms to determine the impedance. The data can be read via a Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) that can also be used for IC configuration.

Microchip Technology's SAM E51 Integrated Graphics and Touch Curiosity Evaluation Kit evaluates the SAME51J20A microcontroller without external tools. The kit accesses SAME51J20A features to integrate the device into a custom design. SAM E51 integrates a touch screen, thin-film transistor (TFT) graphics, and touch surface into a single-chip solution. The kit is supported by the MPLAB® X Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The kit also includes an onboard debugger, 8MB QSPI Flash, and an onboard CAN-FD transceiver.

Tuesday's Takeaway

Our interface with machines is no longer science fiction. We're already encountering HMI development in everyday life. The challenge for engineers is designing solutions that further enhance the human experience as we interact with high-precision and safe HMI. Sci-fi storytellers have provided use-case scenarios—so the sky is the limit.

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Tommy Cummings is a freelance writer/editor based in Texas. He's had a journalism career that has spanned more than 40 years. He contributes to Texas Monthly and Oklahoma Today magazines. He's also worked at The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. Tommy worked at Mouser Electronics from 2018 to 2021 as a technical content and product content specialist.

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