Touchless control panel proposal with hygiene benefits

26th May 2020
Alex Lynn

Alps Alpine has presented a new proposal in the form of a touchless control panel for situations when touching is undesirable, not possible or not allowed in settings such as medical or nursing care or public facilities. Market research is currently underway with an eye toward commercialisation in around 2021. 

Downsizing and advanced functionality are aims behind recent replacement of switches with touch panels as the input and control technology for a wide range of devices – not only smartphones and car navigation systems, but also digital home appliances and security equipment.

Devices with touch panels are also being introduced for tasks traditionally performed via communication between people or with writing, such as ordering at a restaurant, front desk operations at public facilities, and recording of clinical notes by medical professionals. Here the objectives are labor saving and greater efficiency. Use of touch panels for input and control will continue to grow. However, we have discovered there are many situations where people feel either physically or psychologically uneasy about touching a panel because they wonder who else might have touched it, or because it is dirty, or their own hands are dirty.

Visitors to medical facilities, for example, might be concerned about the risk of contracting a disease from an item because they do not know who has touched it. Some people might have a distaste for dirty surfaces on ticket machines in train stations or flush buttons on toilets in public facilities. Others might want to avoid operating a home appliance while eating sweets with their hands or while cooking in the kitchen. In situations like these, touch panels could potentially lose their convenience factor.

The touchless control panel proposed by Alps Alpine, while incorporating the advantages of touch panels, will reduce such uneasiness or aversion by providing safe and easy control along with peace of mind. An original high-sensitivity capacitive sensor detects the approach of a hand in a series of steps – detecting the presence of a hand within ten centimeters from the panel; the actual position of the hand within five centimeters; and the positions of fingers within three centimeters.

Detected data is processed using our own original algorithm to realise diverse forms of control based on the positions of, and gestures made by, hands and fingers. Recognising there will still be people who wish to touch and operate controls directly, the panel also allows touch operation. At CES 2020, the world’s largest electronics trade show, held in Las Vegas in January, Alps Alpine presented a solution incorporating this product. A demo set was used to show how a touchless control panel might be used to regulate air conditioning temperature and air flow settings, as well as adjust room lighting via ceiling lights and floor lamps and the opening and closing of curtains.

The system is designed so features and information on the display change with the distance of the hand or finger and the type of operation. It also incorporates sound feedback, allowing intuitive operation even by first-time users. The response from show visitors who tried the demo was strong. On the basis of positive comments received during CES 2020, we will strengthen marketing activities targeting a wide range of markets where hygiene considerations are required, such as medical and nursing care settings and public transport. Alps Alpine aims to commercialise the touchless control panel in around 2021.

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