In an ever expanding virtual world, the next big thing in the human-machine interface is a retro craving, among customers, for haptic feedback. People want a button they can push—physically, forcefully.

Enter the world of Peratech, a company based on North Yorkshire, the U.K.

Peratech, which invented quantum tunnelling composite (QTC) materials, is now leveraging its intellectual property to design touch/force-sensing solutions.

QTC applications are not limited to smartphones and tablets which already sport touch screens. Quantum tunnelling can be applied to a variety of control buttons for medical, industrial equipment, game consoles’ joysticks and centre-stacks in cars.

Super reconfigurable buttons

With QTC, Peratech CEO Jon Stark said, “We are making a super reconfigurable button that you can push with intent.”

Peratech quantumtunnellingcomposite Figure 1: A Single point sensor incorporating Quantum Tunnelling Composite technology. (Photo: EE Times)

QTC is composed essentially of nano-particle materials. QTC changes its electrical resistance based on changes in applied force. Peratech has enabled quantum tunnelling by “selecting the precise shape of certain conductive nanoparticles and carefully controlling the processes used to blend them with other particles,” according to the company.

Compared to conventional capacitive touch sensing technology, QTC has a distinct edge. For example, by adding force to touch, “we can eliminate accidental touching, which can happen with capacitive touch,” said Stark. Further, “You can touch the QTC buttons with gloved hands or with any stylus.” Because QTC-enabled touch buttons can also measure force, they add “a level of control, reliability, and range to create a real-world touch experience,” the company explained.

Today, QTC is produced as a screen printable polymer-based ink—in opaque and transparent versions. Its material can be added to a regular screen, or any other surfaces. “The integration of QTC takes up no space,” said Stark. “We play with others [screens] very well.” Moreover, QTC requires no signal processing in a host processor, he added, thus reducing a system’s power consumption.

The bottom line? “We can print a smart button on any surface of any materials–including laminated wood,” said Stark. “That, I think, is the dream of every industrial designer.”

Peratech superbutton Figure 2: The reconfigurable super button on this domestic blender enables an intuitive firm grip for high speed action and lighter grip for low speed. (Source: Peratech)

Further, because you can literally “print” tiny, force-sensing buttons on a surface—the sides of a smartphone, for example–it’s not necessary to punch out little holes on the plastic case.

 
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