Atmel & the Art of Touch

Give a baby a non-touchscreen device and they’ll jab at it with their little fingers in frustration before surmising that it’s broken and not worth playing with. This is because — in today’s society — touchscreens have become so ubiquitous that many people can no longer remember what life was like before this technology appeared on the scene.

I remember not-so-long ago absent-mindedly picking up a netpad computer that was sitting on our sofa and thinking it was broken because it didn’t respond to my touching the screen. Once you’ve become accustomed to using touchscreen technology, it’s hard to go back.

Oddly enough, the underlying technology for touchscreens wasn’t even thought up until the 1940s. Sadly, this concept was then left… well, untouched… until 1965, when one E.A. Johnson of the United Kingdom had another stab at it. Johnson came up with a finger-driven touchscreen that historians generally agree was the very first finger-driven touchscreen. Not that much came of Johnson’s experiments — in fact, the world had to wait almost another twenty years for Nimish Mehta and his team at the University of Toronto to develop the first human-controlled multitouch device in 1982.

To outline the jumps and bumps in the touchscreen’s history, Atmel has developed the following infographic, which — in addition to noting some of the more historic milestones — also includes some of the weirder tidbits of trivia and nuggets of knowledge.

Atmel, of course, has a few milestones of its own when it comes to touch. In 2008 Atmel acquired Quantum Research Group Ltd., a developer of capacitive sensing IP, and has been making touch sensors and touch products ever since.

More recently, Atmel developed, manufactured and shipped XSense — a high-performance, highly flexible touch sensor on extremely bendable, flexible plastic, allowing engineers to design devices with curved surfaces.

What’s the big deal about curves, you ask? Well, aside from them being far sexier (ask any car enthusiast you know), curved screens actually cause a series of optical effects that result in improved contrast, color accuracy, readability, and overall image quality — especially under ambient light.

Curved screens also give the user more privacy, making content viewed from off-center angles less visible. And, last but not least, XSense is, like Bruce Springsteen, born in the USA; designed and manufactured in California and Colorado Springs.

So check out the above infographic and — if it sparks any crazy ideas in your head about what you’d like to create with bendable, flexible touch — then why not head over and enter Atmel’s XSense design contest for a chance to win $1500.

— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting Circle me on Google+