My Oven has it and so does my new phone – touch screen technology is becoming hugely popular. Apple started it with the iphone and now manufacturers of everything from consumer electronics to white goods are trying to keep up. The cell phone industry in particular wants to compete with Apple’s iphone.
“Consumers are looking for displays with higher resolution, contrast, and more-sophisticated touch screen technology in applications that previously utilized simple LED or LCD displays,” says Gary Olson, director of engineering, Control Products (Chanhassen, MN, U.S.; www.controlproductsinc.com). “Appliance makers have high expectations from their control developers. Expertise in advanced features along with advanced graphics is necessary to keep pace with market demands.”
The latest product offerings from Electrolux feature control panels that appear “dark” and blank until touched to illuminate and reveal a bright and colorful display allowing operation of all functions. The displays on the new line of premium appliances use touch sensors to detect touch and tell the panel to turn on, and when touch is no longer sensed, they turn off to leave a sleek and blank display.
Even as touch screens become more popular, some suppliers are exploring the next advance to provide options that go beyond touch.
It seems uncharacteristic for a control panel to eliminate the need for an actual touch, but smart technologies are enabling it. The answer for WaveOn Technologies Inc. is a touchless sensor, designed to be so sensitive it can detect a near-touch from 3 in. away, even when placed beneath 10-mm-thick plastic.
Although the technology is now common with flat-panel TVs and glass range cooktops, WaveOn’s technology is pushing the envelope further. The company is looking into applications where a detection of movement might come in handy. One example is the kitchen, where hands are commonly messy with food preparation. Here the sensors could help consumers raise or lower radio or TV volume or answer a phone without touching a thing.
“The key concern of many consumers is that if [the control panel] looks elegant, it is likely to be fragile and less durable than systems they’re used to,” says Brenton Judge, engineering director, Defond Group Ltd. Defond in the United States includes Defond North America LLC (Raleigh, NC, U.S., www.dnagroup.com). “By giving customers a system that essentially has an infinite life span and is resistant to dirt and spillages at a minimal cost, we can boost the acceptance of electronic controls in the appliance market.”
To achieve this, Defond is placing smart digital control underneath the facade of traditional mechanical switches that consumers believe to be more reliable. The supplier says its specialty is control systems that simplify use by integrating instructions into the product itself via the display and adding sensors that enable a product to self-adjust according to how a consumer uses the product.
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