Educational Questions & Answers

How do touch screens work?

Touch screen monitors ? where you can use your finger on the computer screen to navigate through the contents ? have become more and more commonplace over the past decade, particularly at public information kiosks. A basic touch screen has three main components: a touch sensor, a controller, and a software driver. The touch screen is an input device, so it needs to be combined with a display and a PC to make a complete touch input system.

The Touch Sensor has a textured coating across the glass face. This coating is sensitive to pressure and registers the location of the user's finger when it touches the screen. The controller is a small PC card that connects the touch sensor to the PC. It takes information from the touch sensor and translates it into information that PC can understand. The Software Driver is a software update for the PC system that allows the touchscreen and computer to work together. It tells the computer's operating system how to interpret the touch event information that is sent from the controller.

There are three basic systems that are used to recognise a person's touch ? Resistive, Capacitive and Surface acoustic wave.

The resistive system consists of a normal glass panel that is covered with a conductive and a resistive metallic layer. These layers are held apart by spacers, and a scratch-resistant layer is placed on top of the whole set up. An electrical current runs through the two layers while the monitor is operational. When a user touches the screen, the two layers make contact in that spot. The change in electrical field is noted and coordinates of the point of contact are calculated. Once the coordinates are known, a special driver translates the touch into something that the operating system can understand, much as a computer mouse driver translates a mouse's movements into a click or drag.

In the capacitive system, a layer that stores electrical charge is placed on the glass panel of the monitor. When a user touches the monitor with his or her finger, some of the charge is transferred to the user, so the charge on the capacitive layer decreases. This decrease is measured in circuits located at each corner of the monitor. The computer calculates, from the relative differences in charge at each corner, exactly where the touch event took place and then relays that information to the touch screen driver software. One advantage of the capacitive system is that it transmits almost 90 per cent of the light from the monitor, whereas the resistive system only transmits about 75 per cent. This gives the capacitive system a much clearer picture than the resistive system.

The surface acoustic wave system uses two transducers (one receiving and one sending) placed along the x and y axes of the monitor's glass plate. Also placed on the glass are reflectors ? they reflect an electrical signal sent from one transducer to the other. The receiving transducer is able to tell if the wave has been disturbed by a touch event at any instant, and can locate it accordingly. The wave setup has no metallic layers on the screen, allowing for 100-percent light throughput and perfect image clarity. This makes the surface acoustic wave system best for displaying detailed graphics (both other systems have significant degradation in clarity).

Another area in which the systems differ is which stimuli will register as a touch event. A resistive system registers a touch as long as the two layers make contact, which means that it doesn't matter if you touch it with your finger or a rubber ball. A capacitive system, on the other hand, must have a conductive input, usually your finger, in order to register a touch. The surface acoustic wave system works much like the resistive system, allowing a touch with almost any object ? except hard and small objects like a pen tip. (Source: and )

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How do touch screens work?