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Alternative, lower carbon methods of transportation – and why touchscreens are helping lead the ‘charge’

30 June 2020

Around the world, urgent action is being taken to reduce carbon emissions in response to the threat of global warming and climate change. At the forefront of this response, are the changes seen in the various modes of personal transportation and ways in which individual members of the public move from place to place. Government legislation and the effect of CO2 or EPS regulations is driving the automotive industry to move away from traditional petroleum derivatives based on fossil fuels, towards alternative, and in some cases renewable fuel technologies. Some of these explored include biodiesel, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), hydrogen fuel cells, electric vehicles (EV) and hybrid electric vehicles. Today, electric has become the most rapidly growing powertrain technology and, according to a Frost & Sullivan study released in November 2019, global sales of electric vehicles is set to increase to about 34 million in 2025, 121.2 million in 2030, and 636.7 million by 2040.

An obvious challenge that must be addressed for electric vehicles to become more widely adopted, is the availability of supporting infrastructure. The study warns that charging station providers, utilities, technology solution providers, and EV manufacturers must actively engage in dialogue and working groups to ensure standardisation and availability.

Essentially, there are two options when it comes to charging an EV battery: either at home using the domestic mains electricity supply or using public charging points. For those that have off-road parking, this can be done via a standard power outlet or a home fast-charging point, which provides a quicker charging time. However, at some point, the power grid may not be able to support home charging due to excess power draw – when more houses in a street begin home charging or have multiple EV batteries to charge.

In many urban areas, particularly in Europe and Asia, access to home charging is not an option where there is limited or no private parking. To overcome lack of home access, various new business models are being explored. In the UK, trials are already underway for pop-up charge points. Developed by Cheltenham-based design company Duku, these units are stored under the streets of Oxford when not in use to reduce street clutter.

Mileage range anxiety is something that almost all EV drivers suffer from. For mass-market EV to truly take off, charging points must become readily accessible to the driver, on demand. To solve this issue, in some countries, consortia are being formed to install networks of rapid charging points in partnership with local authorities, retailers, landlords and EV manufacturers. The belief being that drivers will come to expect to charge their EVs whilst they go about their day, whether shopping, on business, meeting friends, or topping up en-route to a destination. Major players in the EV ecosystem are collaborating with interoperability between EV charging networks, which allows drivers to use charging stations from any network.

Yet, the dilemma of supply versus demand continues to amount to fewer public charging points than needed being installed. As of July 2019, market and consumer data provider Satista estimates there were 170,149 public charging stations for electric vehicles in Europe. This figure includes normal charge under or equal to 22 kilowatts as well as fast charge with over 22 kilowatts. In 2018, the US had approximately 57,000 charging outlets and 20,000 charging stations.

As these publicly used charging networks expand, network operators will need kiosks to include point-of-sale payment devices in order to begin charging for the service. These must incorporate user interfaces that are robust enough to work in all weather conditions, 24/7 and all year round. In addition to proven reliability, as with any outdoor, unattended self-service kiosk, the interactive display must be sunlight readable and vandal resistant.

Prior to the release of smart phone and tablets, the widespread use of touchscreen technology in outdoor applications was relatively small. One of the main reasons this has changed, is due to the shift in the type of touch technology used. Projected capacitive touch technology has become the dominant touch sensing technology used in both consumer and now commercial applications. This success is because it is both highly sensitive, and yet will only react to a finger or conductive stylus (meaning ‘false touches’ are unlikely). Resistive touchscreens require considerably more pressure than a capacitive touchscreen and are prone to wear related performance problems. Similarly, optical and acoustic based touchscreens can be affected by inanimate objects falling on the screen, accumulation of dirt and even strong sunlight. In outdoor applications this could include rain, snow or leaves landing on the screen.

A projected capacitive touchscreen is typically manufactured with a front layer of glass, with a matrix of conductive elements behind. These elements are made from electrically conductive materials such as Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), Silver, Copper or Carbon – and they are arranged in a transmitting layer and a receiving layer (with insulation between). The conductive matrix is connected to a suitably designed touch controller which injects an electrical charge into the transmitting matrix and then monitors the various elements of the receiving matrix for changes. When a finger approaches the front of the touchscreen, there is a minute change in the capacitive field generated within the two layers behind the front glass. The touch controller firmware detects these changes, identifying the areas or elements of the matrix with the greatest change, ‘triangulating’ the touch position(s). The controller then transmits this data in the form of a stream of X-Y coordinates to the host computer, much in the same way as a mouse or track pad moves a cursor around the display of a PC or laptop.

As a result of the usually faultless performance of projected capacitive touchscreens in consumer electronics, the general public has become accustomed to, and expects a similarly responsive touch experience wherever they encounter an interactive display in everyday life, whether using an ATM, a ticket machine or a self-service fuel dispenser. However, in such demanding applications a consumer-grade touchscreen will quickly fall short. Designed to be light and portable, the glass used tends to be very thin and as they are generally chemically toughened (rather than thermally tempered) when smashed, break into large shards, which are more likely to cause injury. Using a thicker, thermally toughened glass, normally 4-6mm generally overcomes this issue. Around 5 times stronger than untreated glass and if broken, ‘dicing’ into small cubes and not large shards, the resulting touch screen is both vandal resistant, safe to use and above all reliable in any location, time of day, climate or season.

This combination of capabilities means that certain types of projected capacitive touch sensing are increasingly being chosen as the user interface within the self-service systems that are helping move populations from A to B. In shorter distance, metropolitan environments, these include some of the latest ‘ride sharing’ enterprises. For some of their urban bike sharing schemes, including Public Bike System Company’s BIXI system, JC Decaux’s Cyclocity scheme in Paris and Pedal’s bicycle share system in Tokyo, each took  advantage of the all-weather durability and resulting low maintenance delivered by Zytronic’s rugged projected capacitive touch technology. Now in major cities across Europe, Asian and especially North America, the kiosks installed as the check-in/out payment points for these bike share systems are installed next to a rack of bikes, allowing users to book rentals, specify their bike preferences and validate their identity via the touch screen. As well as providing unrivalled robustness, projected capacitive touch sensors of the appropriate technology may be operated with gloved fingers.

At the forefront of EV charging systems, companies like Barcelona’s Circontrol are developing innovative new self-service recharging systems. When evaluating options for the touchscreen on its third-generation DC Raption 50 quick chargers, Circontrol selected components that would continue to deliver that usability, whatever the weather.

The reliability of Zytronic’s projected capacitive touch technology has been proven in similar self-service applications worldwide and, in partnership with Iberhermes, Circontrol developed a bespoke, printed touchscreen. Anti-glare glass was selected for the touch sensor to assist daylight readability of the display. And Zytronic also incorporated UV and IR filters within the touchscreen to aid thermal management of the charging terminal and to help protect the lifetime of the underlying display.

Zytronic’s enviable reputation for providing, reliable, all-weather, damage resistant touchscreens is well known and proven. Several self-service fuel dispenser manufacturers around the world have already selected and deployed the technology over the last decade. This is because retailers began to realise that such interfaces provided the opportunity to reliably automate, accelerate and enhance the customer experience compared to traditional mechanical controls. For example, in Asia, Korea ENE selected this touch technology for its outdoor, partially supervised, self-service fuel dispensers.

As the choice of alternative transportation and fuel type has changed, so have the methods of payment for these services. Zytronic’s customised touchscreens are now also capable of supporting secure PIN entry applications via their development partner, Cryptera. The PCI3 (and shortly 5) compliant PTS (PIN Transaction Security) product, named CryptoTouch® Unattended has been co-developed with Cryptera, a world leader in Secure Payment Technologies. Available in any design and sizes between 10 – 24” diagonal, the touch sensor enables authenticated payments to be handled completely via the touchscreen in ATMs, kiosks and other payment terminals without the need for a separate mechanical Encrypting PIN Pad (EPP). This technology is already being successfully used in ATMs, for a European bank, with other self-service applications including a upcoming ‘pay at the pump’ fuel dispenser OEM in Germany.

Today, 50kW EV chargers are the most common type of public fast charger and take about 30 minutes to fully charge a vehicle. Looking forward, the technology exists to charge in just 5-10 minutes, however there are very few cars that are compatible with such powerful chargers. When these systems eventually do become more widely available to the masses, there is strong belief that conventional petrol/gas stations will eventually convert into EV charging stations.

Petrol stations are already located based on driving patterns and population density; therefore, this existing infrastructure will be a key element in creating an efficient EV charging network. The gradual transition from fossil fuel based refuelling stations to electric vehicle charging points will be slow and there are still lots of doubts about how it will be exactly, but what is clear is that this transition must happen if the widespread adoption of EV’s is to be successful.

EV charger OEM’s and operators are already renting space in petrol stations to install their charging points, prioritising areas where EVs are more popular or areas where there are government incentives. At the same time, traditional fuel dispenser manufacturers have been keeping a keen eye on the rapidly developing EV market.

A strong believer in the transition from petrol to EV station, is one of the oldest fuel pump manufacturers, Gilbarco Veeder-Root. This company designed and developed its first petrol pump back in 1910, when trading as the Gilbert & Barker Manufacturing Co – hence the name Gilbarco. Notably, in 2018, it made a minority investment in Tritium, a privately held EV charging manufacturer based in Australia, thereby creating a path for its traditional customer base to begin building  new charging networks.

Irrespective of who develops these charging units, build cost will always remain an issue. Paid advertising on EV stations’ digital screens could provide a way for companies to recover the costs; as drivers refuel, they effectively become a ‘captive’ audience for the few minutes it takes to fill up. Visitors to any forecourt may well have already noticed these appearing at the fuel dispenser, especially when it has been upgraded to a pay-at-pump system. However, as many fuel stations also include a convenience store, this move to conclude the transaction by the vehicle, means that these shops are experiencing a decline in footfall, and a consequent reduction in sales of impulse products, such as drinks and snacks.

Introducing new ‘click-and-collect’ services at the self-service fuel dispenser may be a way to reverse this trend for the larger fuel retailing chains. By making these advertising displays interactive, the person refuelling may be encouraged to add products such as drinks and snacks to their fuel purchase via the touchscreen on the pump. As soon as the convenience store receives this order, these items can be prepared and once the payment transaction has been completed at the dispenser, an employee can bring the goods out to the driver. The same ‘upselling’ process is likely to gain favour at the growing number of EV charging stations being installed, as even with a 5-10-minute delay while partial recharge occurs, the driver and their passengers will be even more susceptible to advertising.

Whether for conventional or alternative refuelling systems and even personal urban transportation the reliability of the supporting infrastructure is crucial. One thing is certain; touchscreen technology will provide the user interface for almost all of these self-service systems. And with a proven track record of its projected capacitive touch technology to operate in the harshest environments, and its flexibility in supplying small quantities of bespoke designs inhouse, Zytronic is perfectly placed to support this development.

For more information on Zytronic, please visit: www zytronic.co.uk

For more information on Circontrol, please visit: www.circontrol.com

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