An Introduction to Kiosk Touch Technology
For the majority of kiosk applications, touch technology is the first choice for the user interface. Indeed, it could be argued that touch technology has been largely responsible for the success of many kiosks since the touch interface is universal and can be used by anyone, regardless of language, education or socioeconomic and cultural background. However, over the years a number of different touch technologies have emerged and just randomly choosing any of them will not necessarily result in a successful project. Many self-service terminals and kiosks are high-risk business projects and could fail at the pilot stage through poor implementation or wrong choice of technology. Here, we review the various technologies available and provide valuable advice to help systems builders create successful kiosk applications.
Over the last four decades, touch technology has gone from technology restricted to high-end, high-value applications such as air traffic control towers to mainstream personal computing with touchscreens now appearing on the desktop and lately the mobile phone industry which has adopted touch technology with a vengeance. Kiosks for public use have always been a leading application area for touchscreens as the technology is uniquely suited to making a complex computer interface simple to use by anyone.
Technology-wise, there is a wide range of options for designers each with its own particular strengths.
Infrared (IR) technology is a survivor in harsh applications. Combining superb optical performance with excellent gasket sealing capabilities, IR is a great choice for industrial and many public kiosk applications. When touched with a finger, gloved hand, fingernail or any other stylus, IR delivers a fast, accurate response every time.
Surface acoustic wave (SAW) delivers the optical standard in touch technology with its pure glass construction providing excellent optical performance and making it scratch resistant. It is almost impossible to wear out this type of touchscreen and is consequently highly popular in kiosk, gaming and office automation applications. It can also be delivered in vandal resistant variants with tempered glass construction to provide advanced resistance to breakage and vandalism.
Capacitive technology is also very popular in PoS, kiosk and gaming applications and is largely unaffected by everyday mishaps such as dirt, dust or spills. Where “dragging” operations are prevalent, then capacitive touchscreens offer excellent performance and modern capacitive controllers respond to quick light touches.
Resistive technology touchscreens are available in several types. The five-wire types provide a fast, accurate response when activated with a finger, gloved hand, fingernail or object such as a credit card. Resistive is a technology not widely used in kiosks but these screens are popular in point-of-sale (PoS), industrial and medical applications, access control terminals, office equipment and home appliances among others. The four-wire resistive technology is the entry-level touch solution of the resistive family. Its benefits include stable operation, quick touch response, input flexibility, narrow border width, less weight and low power consumption. They are useful almost anywhere a small display is used.
Tyco Electronics offers touch solutions in all of the above technologies and recently added a further choice for those implementing touch systems – Acoustic Pulse Recognition (APR). APR combines the optical qualities, durability and stability of SAW and IR technologies with the excellent dragging properties of capacitive technology along with the stylus, glove and fingernail activation and low cost advantages of resistive technology. In addition, APR works with water and other contaminants on the screen, can be scaled from PDA to 42-inch displays and provides palm rejection during signature capture. APR works in a simple and elegant way, by recognising the sound created when the glass is touched at a given position. Tyco Electronics initially launched APR for applications in the PoS market but its versatility and performance make it an excellent choice in many kiosk applications. As a pure glass technology, like SAW, APR is equally resistant to scratches.
So much for the basics, but which technologies are best suited to kiosk applications and why? SAW has historically been the most widely used of touch technologies in kiosk applications because of its optical clarity and resistance to scratches. It offers excellent image quality, an essential consideration where investment has been made in producing high quality graphics. This is important when endeavouring to match corporate colours used in on-screen graphics with the painted colours of a kiosk. It is also no coincidence that digital photo kiosks are almost exclusively based on SAW technology as colours need to appear on-screen as they will appear in print!
Tyco Electronics also offers SecureTouch touchscreens a largely vandal-resistant SAW option providing an additional measure of resistance to breakage due to the tempered glass construction. Accuracy and stability are also important considerations especially where kiosks are sited remotely and perhaps in multiple international locations. In such circumstances it would be prohibitively expensive to send out technicians simply to recalibrate kiosk screens. SAW offers excellent accuracy with drift-free stability ensuring there is no user frustration, thus minimising walk-aways and vandalism.
Capacitive technology too has a place in kiosk applications. Projected capacitive technology is especially useful as it enables touches to be sensed through a protective layer in front of a display, allowing touchmonitors to be installed behind store windows or vandal-resistant glass.
With all touchscreen technologies, consideration also needs to be given to the display as many touchscreens are retrofitted onto an existing monitor, often from a third-party manufacturer. There are a number of potential problems with this approach, not least being the frequency with which monitor manufacturers change their designs. Tyco Electronics takes a holistic approach to this problem by designing and manufacturing its touch-monitors from the ground up. With a custom-designed chassis and sealed bezel surface, these touch-monitors integrate easily into a kiosk design.
The company also generally maintains the fixed outside dimensions of its rear-mount touch-monitors longer than most, greatly reducing the chances of having to redesign a kiosk around a monitor component change. 3D design files are also available for engineers to create a perfect fit within their enclosure. Current trends are for more digital signage and widescreen format touch-monitors are now becoming the norm in most touch applications as the continued uptake of wider displays in the general mass-market computing sector brings down the price of these LCD panels. Tyco Electronics has anticipated the rise in demand for widescreen touch-monitors and was an early pioneer of the new format displays with its large screen wide aspect LCD touch-monitors from 20- to 32-inch sizes launched in 2008, all available with a choice of touch technologies.