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Breakthrough for touch screens shatters price curve, drives down power

Anybody calling their technology something as quaint as a Quantum Tunneling Composite, knows that they are going to have a tough sell when a fundament

By PETER WHITE

Published: 7 April, 2011

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Anybody calling their technology something as quaint as a Quantum Tunneling Composite, knows that they are going to have a tough sell when a fundamental breakthrough happens, but that’s why Faultline is here, to pick up such breakthroughs for you and ponder their significance.

A small UK company says that it has a massive breakthrough in Quantum Tunneling and the implications are that virtually immediately this will lead to cheaper touch screens, either resistive screens which are more sensitive and offer multi-touch or capacitive screens which use a fraction of the power. But it’s a big jump from the announcement data so hang on in there.

You can go to Wikipedia and look up Quantum Tunneling, but fundamentally it’s a way of changing the dielectric in a device so that a charge can pass where it once would not pass, in this case upon the application of a tiny amount of pressure. Hence touch screens.

Typically a touch screen works in two different ways, one with a dielectric of air between two substrates and pieces of glass – that’s resistive screens, or by placing a charge all over the screen, which is interfered with by something like a finger creating a capacitance effect – soaking up some of that charge – so capacitive screens.

What we have at tiny Peratech in the UK is an existing intellectual property licensing business, based around QTC – and this so far has hinged on building a polymer from very spiky metal microscopic sized particles, covered in an insulator. Most similar metal particles are roughly round, so they touch just once at their outermost edge and transferring a charge from one to another is tough. It’s easier when you push them together, but not that much easier. Hence the state of resistive touch screens, where they come with a deforming soft cover, so you have to push down hard, and this moves the cover around the depression, and creates eddies which make sensing a second touch too tricky. Which is why multi-touch isn’t worth trying with resistive screens.

By making the metal polymer out of spiky particles, when they move fractionally, the spikes touch along their sides, creating lots of surface area in contact, and a charge can jump across the insulator more easily. In a touch screen this isn’t much help since it’s tough to see through metal spikes, even if they are microscopically small, because they need to be on top of the screen, not under it. Which is why so far the Peratech system has been used on opaque screen edges in touch screens from Nissha in Japan and from Samsung in Korea.

The breakthrough is to create a composite material which is not made out of metal, but is still a combination of an insulator and something which conducts, and is still spiky for that extra contact, but which is see through.

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