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TI deal may resurrect Neonode

When start-ups can their products and say their future is in licensing, they are generally never heard of again, but Sweden’s cultish Neonode may be t

By PETER WHITE

Published: 12 May, 2011

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When start-ups can their products and say their future is in licensing, they are generally never heard of again, but Sweden’s cultish Neonode may be the exception. Having called time on its experimental handset designs in January, the firm has announced a collaboration with Texas Instruments to push its touchscreen technology, which promises clarity in bright light, into the mainstream.

The weight of TI promises to accelerate the development roadmap for Neonode’s zForce optical touchscreen system, and to improve its cost base. The partners say they are working together on several commercial projects that combine zForce with TI’s ultra-low power microcontrollers, the MSP430 family, to create a platform suited to mobile consumer devices. This will take zForce away from being a niche solution for high end smartphones, to enabling OEMs to “touch enable any surface at low cost, independent of underlying screen technology”, the firm told EETimes.

This is part of a broader trend to seek ways to incorporate touch interfaces in all kinds of devices, looking well beyond smartphones and into very low cost gadgets.

"Neonode's technology enables TI's ultra-low power MSP430 microcontroller solutions in high performance touchscreens at a fraction of the cost and power consumption of existing implementations,” said Adrian Valenzuela, MSP430 product marketing manager at TI.

When Neonode announced its change of direction at the start of the year, it claimed to have a multiyear deal for zForce, with an unnamed “global consumer electronics company”. This agreement has not yet been made public, though the smart money was on Sony, which already uses Neonode’s system in its ereaders and could be looking to adopt it in other media and mobile gadgets.

The patented zForce technology supports a wider combination of input mechanisms than most touchscreens. It accommodates multitouch and sweep, like capacitive screens, and stylus or pen input (the strengths of resistive panels, and particularly popular in Asia), but also extends these into high resolution pen writing and gesture recognition.

Unlike capacitive and resistive technologies, it does not use an overlay, which claims to create a completely clear display with no reflection (hence the interest for ereaders). This also makes the system suitable for outdoor applications, including industrial devices. It includes infrared technology, the most advanced touchscreen approach for outdoor clarity. This has mainly been used in ATM machines and has been cost prohibitive for phones.

IR displays use an array of infrared LEDs, coupled with photo detectors, around the edge of the screen. The latter detect any changes in the pattern of the LED beams and register this.

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