TECHNOLOGY

Enabling Fresh Advances in Operability

High-Sensitivity Capacitive Technology

Core High-Sensitivity Capacitive Technology Enables New Control Styles for Automobiles, Home Appliances and Many Other Domains

Capacitive sensing technology has been incorporated into many different products, such as smartphones, notebook PCs and game consoles, realizing smooth control via the fingertips. Alps Alpine, too, has built up expertise in the capacitive technology field over many years, applying original high-sensitivity design to achieve further advances and expand the possibilities of human-machine interfaces (HMI).

Sensors employing capacitive techniques detect the approach of a human finger as it nears the sensor’s electrodes, altering capacitance. Sensors can also be configured with X and Y electrodes to enable detection of finger movements as coordinates by scanning both electrodes.

Alps Alpine Capacitive Sensing Technology

A typical format for smartphones, touch input has found its way into various scenes of our daily lives. To discover the origins of capacitive technology at Alps Alpine, we must return to 1994. The former Alps Electric was good at creating products for the peripheral devices domain, even developing the first Japan-made computer mouse. Responding to customer demand for more intuitive control using fingers, Alps Electric developed a touch pad (GlidePoint™) after licensing technology from Cirque Corporation, a company whose original capacitive technology was its strong point.

Smaller devices and faster control response speeds were in demand and Alps sought to meet those needs. The company’s products were adopted for many items like mobile phones and game consoles, and meanwhile the technology evolved in the hands of Alps and its customers. Then in 2003, Cirque became a wholly owned subsidiary, making it possible to combine technologies the two companies had respectively accumulated to enable high-precision sensing. Know-how acquired in the consumer electronics field was subsequently applied in development of touch pads for automotive use. In 2010, Alps led the world by putting forward an automotive touch pad that satisfied requirements for resilience to noise and environmental factors.

One advantage of Alps Alpine’s capacitive technology is the tremendous integrated strength that comes from undertaking everything in-house, even the ICs, algorithms and sensor electrode design. A major feature of the latest internally developed ICs is their use of absolute, or self-, capacitance to achieve outstanding high sensitivity and noise resistance performance. Sensing of fingers works even with gloves on.

Realizing Additional Ease of Use in Diverse Domains

Using this high-sensitivity capacitive technology, it is possible to detect a hand from 10 centimeters away. Not only that, even the smallest movements of a hand as it approaches or moves away can be ascertained, thus enabling not only conventional touch input, but also new forms of input, such as proximity sensing and gesture control. For instance, application in touchless control is envisaged for medical and nursing care settings, as well as public transport, toilets and other environments where hygiene concerns make it preferable to avoid direct hand contact.

As a demo kit, Alps Alpine has developed a touchless control panel for home appliances, showing how air conditioning temperature and air flow, and ceiling lights, for example, can be controlled without actually touching the panel. Detected data is processed using our own original algorithm to realize diverse forms of control with features and information on the display changing with the distance of the hand or finger and the type of operation. Controls that make use of capacitance and do not require physical switches are also capturing interest for the advantages they might provide in interior design. Combined with the above technologies of Alps Alpine, the result will be some exceptional human-machine interfaces.

Premium Quality and Comfort for Automobile Cabins

In the automotive field, Alps Alpine puts effort into developing Premium Human-Machine Interfaces (HMI) that infuse a quality feel and comfort into the vehicle interior. We are currently pursuing development of control modules that combine high-sensitivity capacitive sensing technology, enabling gesture control, with original decorative printing, stealth illumination and force feedback technology. Our sensors based on capacitive technology also expand the range of materials that can be chosen for the vehicle interior because they are so sensitive and resistant to noise that they allow control even through wood, leather or fabric, which was not possible before. Flat design inside cars is expected to make further inroads up ahead, widening the scope of domains where capacitive solutions enabling both intuitive control and a premium feel can make a difference.

Alps Alpine’s high-sensitivity capacitive sensing technology expands possibilities in a wide range of fields with advanced operability enabling touch and gesture control through to proximity sensing. By further refining our technology, we will continue to generate new value for human-machine interfaces.