Touch sensing through thick glass, bulky gloves and liquids is now possible thanks to high-speed sensor fusion touch controller technology developed by SigmaSense LLC, a global leader in touch sensing technology.
“SigmaDrive® touch response is much faster than today’s touch screens, delivering smoother and more reliable operation, even with gloves or through liquids on the display. Delivering a new level of HMI (human machine interface) reliability, programmability, and predictability is critical to automotive OEMs planning to deploy touch interactions that define their HMI, their unique brand. This technology allows the auto industry to develop next-level interactive touch solutions for dashboards that can be applied to full-width dashboards using complex glass shapes or flexible polymers,” says the company.
According to SigmaSense, the current mode ADCs (analog-to-digital converters) capture data at the edge between analogue and digital domains for higher fidelity and less signal interference. The shift to current-mode ADCs means no more sampling or scanning with high voltage thresholds to detect a touch. This delivers touch sensing with 100 to 1,000 times better per volt signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) when normalized for time.
“SigmaSense® is pioneering a massive industry shift away from traditional voltage-mode touch sensing to current-mode ADCs using ultra-low voltages, with the ability to simultaneously drive, sense, and image the entire screen surface regardless of size,” says the company.
The year 2021 was an exciting one for SigmaSense. The company raised US$24 million in a Series B funding round in October 2021 which will help it leverage this funding round to expand its reach in the touch and human machine interface (HMI) markets with significant impact to the US$100 billion global display market. The funding came close on the heels of SigmaSense unveiling its latest high speed sensor fusion touch controller technology at CAR.HMI in Detroit, in July 2021. This industry-first technology can determine if touch interaction is initiated from the driver or the passenger.
The capability increases automotive safety, lowers the cost and complexity of cockpit electronics while improving the infotainment design mechanics. The company’s SigmaDrive® technology, has another industry first, sensor fusion which can share channels between multiple touch sensors using only a single controller as well as touch sensitivity that enables high hover interaction with the display.
As part of its expansion drive the company has appointed long-time semiconductor veteran Aurelio Fernandez to its Board of Managers. Fernandez’ experience is expected to facilitate the rapid scaling of SigmaSense over the next 18 months as it deploys its semiconductor and software solutions across a wide range of sensing applications spanning automotive, mobile phones, and laptops to digital signage and kiosks.
“SigmaSense has a breakthrough technology that is on the verge of transforming many sensing markets in the next few years,” says Fernandez. “I’ve seen many jumps in performance over the years, but seeing a real 100-1,000 X leap in signal-to-noise ratio will remake and create many new sensing markets in the years to come.”
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Rick Seger, CEO, SigmaSense, to share some of the unique features of Sigma Drive® technology.
Seger: It’s now time to reconsider existing technologies such as scanned voltage threshold touch systems in favor for new approaches that offer better and more reliable performance. At SigmaSense, we have developed a current-based concurrent driving and sensing technology for HMI that we believe address most if not all these concerns. Solutions from innovative companies that do things in a different and better way will be the key to forging ahead with new HMI solutions for electric vehicles.
We believe we have developed a technology that has the capability to revolutionize the human machine interaction within an automobile. The automotive industry has refocused on experience, and our technology facilitates intuitive interactions within the vehicle, plus improves reliability, battery life, and efficiency, lowering overall costs.
As automakers redefine the vehicle cockpit, SigmaSense’s technology enables long line sensors across curved surfaces including dashboards, consoles, steering wheels, and on multiple interactive displays. As automotive dashboards evolve and become more complex, the ability to handle long conductive lines, with varying resistances, at low voltages and with minimized electro-magnetic interference (EMI) emissions is key.
Our smooth, predictable touch technology in the harsh, noisy conditions of automotive is for the first time available to HMI systems. Our ability to detect presence of a hand up to 18 inches away, manage multiple touch screens from one controller and sense driver vs passenger means all new experiences are at our fingertips.
AI: How does this tie in with electric vehicles (EV) requirements?
Seger: With all-electric vehicles, there is a noisier EMI environment. EMI mitigation strategies are an important and very difficult design challenge when adding large capacitive touch sensing inside a vehicle. EMI can interfere with reliable touch, or any touch at all. Low-voltage touch technologies that mitigate EMI issues and provide robust performance are most desirable. Additionally, the ability to have reliable touch with residual moisture on the touch surface, or the ability of the user to be wearing gloves while touching (or both moisture and gloves combined), makes such a solution even more robust.
Safety is an area that goes hand-in-hand with robustness. Elimination of situations that can cause driver distraction within the cockpit needs serious attention. Sensor fusion, as well as presence detection and hover, with touch all enable the differentiation between passenger and driver. Touch controllers with the ability to gather data from multiple sensor channels such as the touch region on the display, as well as additional sensing channels along the perimeter of the display, using just one component, lower cost and improve power consumption—all important criteria for electric vehicle design.
AI: How do existing technologies compare against yours?
Seger: Future EV controls could see a total replacement of physical buttons with virtual controls featuring reconfigurable software. Software reconfigurable touch using new touch technologies such as Software Defined Sensing (SDS), allow a common standard control to be used across different model and product lines, with each having different features. Future improvements, upgrades and HMI enhancements would be a software download instead of a retrofit or recall.
The reinvention of the automotive cockpit will further drive innovation in HMI technology development. Technologies are beginning to appear that will solve some of the problems with touch in the past, and in addition, add desired product enhancements such as presence detection and hover, robust performance under all conditions, fast input response and improved optics in the touch display.
Conventional touch technologies struggle to enable sensor fusion. They suffer from susceptibility to EMI, are not as accurate when detecting hover or presence, and do not work accurately with a robust glove touch or where there is moisture. Our technology is also lower cost and uses less power.
A highly responsive, high-speed touch would improve the robustness of the touch, eliminating the possibility of distraction or error in control button selection during navigation. Flat panel displays used in vehicles also may expand beyond Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) to Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) displays, which are fully emissive high-contrast displays that do not require a backlight. OLED displays are more difficult to combine with touch, so new generations of touch controllers are needed that can work with automotive OLEDs.
AI: What are some of the recent tie-ups that help you expand your automotive footprint?
Seger: We’re delighted to be working closely with VIA optronics AG, an investor in SigmaSense, and a leading supplier of interactive display systems delivering new, innovative touch experiences in harsh and demanding conditions. SigmaSense is currently seeking collaboration partners to develop new creative touch solutions leveraging this breakthrough technology for automotive applications.