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Overcoming the demands of outdoor use in Touch Technology

13 June 2018

In This Whitepaper: Outdoor use places extensive demands on the performance of touchscreen technology. Discover the issues to be aware of when choosing outdoor touchscreens, how each type of touch technology functions outdoors and finally, discover the ideal technology for incorporating efficient touch performance into your outdoor products.

The Outdoor Environment

Picture an ATM situated on a rain-soaked high-street, or a touchscreen panel in a graffiti-scrawled public telephone box. In each, the touch panel remains perfectly functional, allowing users to interact unhindered by weather or damage. That is the Zytronic difference. 

All technology, regardless of purpose or application, must be carefully designed when used in an outdoor environment. From inclement weather conditions to security risks, placing commercial technology outdoors means additional demands are placed on the manufacturer to ensure that products remain functional and safe to use.

Poorly implemented touchscreen panels can quickly become defective due to the outdoor conditions. If the touchscreen fails, the entire product essentially fails until an engineer can be deployed to either repair or replace the screen. For this reason, it’s essential that manufacturers must source and install touch panels that are built with the demands of outdoor use in mind.

The Touchscreen Generation

It is no longer enough to offer touchscreens that ‘work’ outdoors. They must perform.

We live in a touchscreen generation – where even children are used to multi-touch devices and multi-screen entertainment. In an Ofcom survey, it was reported that 71% of 3-4-year olds use tablets to go online – and 35% of 5-7 year olds owned their own tablets. [1]  In adulthood, this adoption is even greater: 85% of those aged 16-75 now own or have access to a smartphone. [2]

This means touchscreens are now an expectation rather than a luxury, and as such, consumers expect touch panels to respond intuitively no matter what environment they appear in. For a business, incorporating a touch element helps add a layer of interactivity to your product – giving users a way to literally ‘get to grips’ with your brand, service or products. However, this technology must also function as smoothly and intuitively as the tablet and smartphone devices consumers are now used to.

This means that touchscreens placed outdoors must not only withstand inclement conditions but must also adhere to the expectations of the smartphone generation. They should be responsive and hardwearing, regardless of the conditions they are subjected to. Quality touch performance is no longer a luxury – it is a demand.

Why use touch outdoors?

With these demands in mind, what are the benefits of touch panels in outdoor technology? Here are a few examples of popular applications that can incorporate touch technology.

  • ATM/Bank Terminals: Nowadays, technology is an expectation in personal banking. From mobile banking to contactless payment, customers expect the latest innovations to be applied to their banking. With these new technologies in mind, touchscreen is now almost a forgone conclusion for ATMs, with customers expecting it as a minimum.
  • Digital Signage: Signage and advertising boards benefit heavily from touch panels, allowing users to interact with an advertisement, learn more about a brand or even answer questions in a quiz format. Touch gives an extra dimension to advertisers and is an invaluable tool for generating engagement with the public.
  • Retail: Retailers are increasingly incorporating touch into their point of sale displays – whether that’s an in-store garment finder or a touch panel on the glass exterior, allowing users to browse the latest trends before they even step into the shop.
  • Communications: Whether it’s a telephone or a touchscreen map to help the public navigate a city, touchscreens are becoming increasingly useful in outdoor communication applications.

By giving users more ways to interact with your product, touchscreens are rapidly becoming a must in almost every form of user technology. Do not avoid creating products that utilise outdoor touchscreens – instead understand the considerations that must be undertaken and use a touchscreen that can deliver responsive, user-friendly performance regardless of conditions.

Understanding the demands of the outdoors

When choosing touchscreen technology for use in outdoor environments, there are key factors that must be considered and prepared for. Failing to understand any of these elements can lead to a damaged touchscreen and a non-functioning product.

Rain

The first and most pressing risk for any outdoor technology is rain. Waterproofing is now common in almost all commercial applications – but for touch panels being ‘proof’ against water is not enough. They must also function when wet, which can be a challenge for many forms of capacitive touch panel popular in consumer electronics. Because they rely on electricity, typically from the skin of a user’s finger, water can disrupt the performance of the screen.

Zytronic’s patented Projected Capacitive Technology (PCT™) prevents this issue by allowing the touch panel sensors to be fully sealed within the glass, complying with NEMA a, 12 and IP 65 standards. This also protects against sleet, snow and humidity. The controller offers low resistance, which means water droplets that land on the screen will not register as a touch. Compared to competing touch controllers that use Indium Tin Oxide coatings, which are high resistance and can be confused by water on screens, Zytronic’s copper coating remains accurate even as rain pools on the screen.

Sunlight

Direct sunlight causes glare on any screen, which can distract or dissuade users from interacting with your product. While the display you place under a touch panel is the main factor in promoting good sunlight readability, an uncoated touchscreen will cause harsh reflection that prevents even the brightest display from offering good readability.

Designers must therefore consider the glass they use in touchscreens. At Zytronic, we can create outdoor touchscreen panels that use chemically-etched anti-glare glass that diffuses light, allowing a user to concentrate on the screen as opposed to reflection. In addition, coated anti-reflective glass allows light reflection to be reduced by around 75% - making displays easier to read in direct light.

Extreme Temperatures

From freezing cold shopping malls in The Baltic states, to hot and humid conditions in South-East Asia, touchscreen technology is used in all temperatures and all conditions. Designers and systems integrators must plan to ensure the survival and functionality of electronic systems, this includes touchscreen enabled human-machine interfaces, in all their forms.

If you are manufacturing a product that will be used outdoors, it must be adapted to the climate of the target country.

Heat

Heat from sunlight, as well as causing glare, can also heat up the sensor in a touchscreen and cause issues. An infra-red film can be fitted to the rear of the sensor to reduce the transmission of IR energy, providing designers with a useful tool for cooling.

In extremely hot environments, cooling can also be provided with an active cooling system – which is an additional “force fed” fan system which pulls in cool air and forces out warm air, creating circulation of air directly over hot components to cool them. However, a problem with this method is when the ambient temperature is too hot, the air being pulled into the system is not sufficiently cold enough to provide any cooling effect. In extremely hot environments, thermoelectric conditioning units would be more effective. These air conditioning units pull warm air over compressed gas to produce a cooling effect.

Zytronic touchscreens can be manufactured to function perfectly up to 70°C – ensuring performance in some of the world’s hottest climates. Humidity is also a non-issue, as long as the system is  fully sealed, and the unit does not permit moisture ingress. Displays must be carefully selected by manufacturers to ensure they function in this level of heat.

Cold

Temperature tolerance is important in cold environments for a number of reasons. Freezing temperatures can damage glass touch panels – so any glass specified for use in cold must be incredibly robust. Zytronic’s glass can withstand temperatures down to -35°C.

Cold also means users are likely to wear gloves. On some touchscreens that rely solely on electricity, gloves create a barrier between skin and screen and therefore prevent a user’s touch being detected. Any touchscreen produced for use in the cold must therefore function even when a user is wearing gloves.

Snow and ice, like rain, carry the same moisture issues. However, due to the heat of the display below the touch panel, neither are likely to impact performance as they will melt to water – which is ignored by Zytronic’s unique technology.

Damage

One of the main considerations of touchscreens placed outdoors is their vulnerability to damage and vandalism. Whether your product is exposed to accidental scrapes as part of its service life, or it is exposed to intentional damage, tampering or theft, a touchscreen used outdoors should be able to mitigate risks as efficiently as possible.

To protect against damage, the glass that houses a touch panel must be tough enough to withstand direct impact and to not compromise performance. Achieving this is made possible by thermally or chemically strengthening the glass fronted touch sensor.

Chemically toughening glass is a process whereby glass is submerged into a heated, potassium salt bath. This causes the sodium ions in the glass to be replaced with larger potassium ions, creating compression on the surface of the glass as well as traction stresses in the core.

This process creates glass that is up to 8 times stronger than float glass. However, when broken, the glass will shatter into large splinters which could cause severe injury to any nearby users. To ensure health and safety, outdoor units may therefore need to choose a different option.

Thermal toughening is perhaps a more suitable alternative for outdoor applications where health and safety is a concern. The process involves raising the temperature of glass to near melting point, and then rapidly cooling it. This creates tension within the glass and compression on its exterior. When it breaks, it will instead break into small granular pieces rather than dangerous shards.

Impacts and scratching are both issues faced by outdoor touchscreens – and are again issues that can be mitigated by selecting the right glass. Thick, toughened glass touch panels such as our ZyBrid multi-touch sensor can withstand impacts and abrasions that would cause damage in thinner glass, so manufacturers must ensure they select the appropriate thickness. In addition, touchscreens can be sealed in different styles at their edges to further protect against breakage.

Vandalism

Many outdoor units are left in unprotected areas, and as such as sadly subject to vandalism. Whether this is a direct attempt to break a screen, graffiti or theft, a touchscreen must be able to offer protection. At a minimum, strengthened glass helps prevent possible legal issues that may arise if a vandal injures themselves on shards.

Zytronic’s touchscreen technology can still function even if the glass breaks under a particularly determined damage attempt, which means users can still interact with a unit until a fix is available.

Security

In banking and other data-sensitive applications, touchscreens may also need to be encrypted to provide total user security. This means selecting a touchscreen with chipset and firmware that adheres to Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant systems.

Advice for installers

When specifying a touchscreen for a product that will be used outdoors, it is important to consider and mitigate the above issues. You should contact a manufacturer early on in your design process, who can then work with you to design the right touch panel for your needs.

To avoid rain or moisture ingress, touchscreens should be fully sealed within glass and given an IP rating to ensure reliable performance in all weathers. The controller itself must be able to ignore rain on a screen to ensure good performance even when wet. You must also ensure that if you are using a front metal bezel to seal the unit, a plastic frame must be installed to create insulation between the screen and controller that is unaffected by water.

To provide functional performance when under direct light, a touchscreen can be specified with anti-glare measures, and fitted to a display such as a TFT-LCD that offers high brightness settings. In fact, the actual LCD chosen is very important – as only bright, full colour screens will attract the right attention in the outdoor space. This is another factor a touchscreen manufacturer can assist with, allowing you to work together to choose the right touch panel for your specific LCD’s specification.

Dirt and dust will be a factor outdoors, so any technology specified must function when either is present on the screen.

Temperature requires implementing a touch panel and a display that can withstand the temperature range of your target location. For example, if creating a range of units for use in a middle-eastern country, heat is more of a focus and may necessitate installing air cooling systems with in your products. Zytronic’s projective capacitance technology automatically adjusts capacitance to ensure performance during temperature changes.

Manufacturers will likely already be aware of the risk of damage and vandalism in any outdoor product -but must consider that the visibility and ‘first point of contact’ nature of touch panels makes them a prime target for vandalism.

As such, manufacturers must design a product whereby the touchscreen is seamlessly integrated and utilises thick, toughened glass that does not shatter. This makes it less likely to be tampered with, and harder to vandalise. At Zytronic we offer responsive touch experiences that function perfectly even with glass that is up to 10mm thick, making it resistant to almost any form of impact.

Despite this, a determined vandal may still be able to break a touch panel, especially in an unattended outdoor space where they have the time to do so, but by preventing shatter you are protecting your system and also avoiding any legal ramifications.

Choosing The Right Touchscreen Technology

Many of the factors that govern touchscreen design for outdoor use are concerned with the glass that protects the actual technology. However, the technology itself is also important in delivering lasting performance in all weathers.

There are multiple touchscreen technologies that all have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, some of those weaknesses are glaringly apparent when utilised in an outdoor environment. For that reason, it is important that manufacturers understand what each technology offers and how outdoor usage may affect your final product.

Resistive

Resistive touch screens have a pliable front layer and a solid rear layer separated by insulating dots, the inside surface of each layer is coated with a transparent conductive coating.  Voltage applied to the layers produces a gradient across each layer. Pressing the flexible top sheet creates electrical contact between the resistive layers, essentially closing a switch in the circuit. Resistive technology offers manufacturers a cost-efficient touch panel.

Advantages: Resistive technology can be used with any input, from a stylus to a gloved hand. It is a low cost technology and offers low power consumption. The system can be sealed for water resistance.

Weaknesses for Outdoor Use: While resistive sensors are inexpensive, the technology’s main disadvantage is its vulnerability to vandalism. The flexible front layer is susceptible to impact damage, scratches and even long term wear. This makes the sensors unfit for use in unattended areas and outdoors. Worse still, the screen will cease functioning in any area of damage.

Infra-red

Infra-red (IR) touch technology is based on light-beam interruption: light emitting diodes on one side of the sensor, and light detectors on the opposite side, create an optical grid across the screen. The touch point is recognised when an object interrupts the beam of light.

Advantages: Can be used in very large displays and is a relatively low-cost technology. The display’s brightness and image clarity are not affected by the sensor.

Weaknesses for Outdoor Use: The light sensing technology required for using in IR touch sensors, must be manufactured with large bezels, making sleek modern designs impossible, and creating the opportunity for dirt and water particles to gather along the edges of the sensor. This creates both problems for the responsiveness of the sensor, but also creates an un-inviting platform to touch and interact with. Further still, sunlight, which contains IR rays, can interfere with the display and cause it to malfunction.

Surface Capacitive

Surface capacitive touch sensors operate by placing a transparent electrode layer on top of a glass panel. When finger touches the monitor screen, it reacts to the electrical capacity of the human body; some of the electrical charge is transferred from the screen to the user and the touch is registered. This decrease in capacitance is detected by sensors located at the four corners of the screen, allowing the controller to determine the touch point.

Advantages: Superior image clarity when compared to resistance panels. It is unaffected by dirt or dust on its surface, which will be a significant factor outdoors.

Weaknesses for Outdoor Use: Designers choosing Surface capacitive sensors are extremely limited in the customisations and visual enhancements the technology can offer. Due to the construction of the sensors, custom printed borders or glass cut-outs are not possible, and like IR touch sensors, Surface Capacitive sensors also require cumbersome bezels, which can collect dirt and water, interfering with the performance of the sensor. The sensor’s operation can be compromised by damage or liquids on the surface – which means rain on the screen can cause havoc for a user trying to interact with a product.

Projective Capacitive

Zytronic’s single/dual touch capable self-capacitive PCT™ technology is the ideal solution for outdoor use. Our technology detects and locates touch, senses a peak change in frequency and submits the data. When a user touches the screen, capacitance occurs between the finger and the sensor grid, whereupon the sensor’s electromagnetic field is disrupted. The peak change in frequency is measured, and by determining which row and column is closest to this peak change in frequency, the position of the user’s touch can be very accurately determined.

The sole disadvantage of this technology is that generally, it can be more expensive than other formats. However, when specifying touchscreens for outdoor use – often in products that demand longevity and durability, compromising on cost and selecting a subpar touch sensor will lead to inferior final products.

The Benefits of Projective Capacitive touch

The benefits of this technology for outdoor use are extensive. The sensing technology is located behind a glass substrate, which can be toughened or strengthened according to your application – meaning your touchscreen will resist accidental impact and scratch damage.

We offer both single and multi-touch sensors that can be supplied with glass up to 10mm thick. This also means the screen is resistant to vandalism. The technology does offer custom printed borders, which can help seal the sensor and again protect against tampering.

Projective capacitive membranes work well in all weather and when wet, functioning even when users are wearing heavy gloves. ‘False’ (accidental) touches are also minimised due to the low resistance of our electrodes, giving users a responsive experience in all weathers. PCT screens are typically unaffected by dirt, grease or water – and can be set up bespoke to your requirements if there are concerns over other materials that may impact touch performance.

Outdoor use often coincides with large-scale displays. Whether it’s a banking terminal or a large digital signage product, Zytronic’s PCT touchscreens are available in sizes up to 100” diagonally that can detect touch through the thickest glass available. Due to the physical characteristics of how or touch technology is laid on the glass, PCT ensures a display’s brightness and image clarity remain good – aiding the final aesthetic impact of your project.

Offering a range of customisation options, a responsive touch experience in all conditions and the ability to utilise thick strengthened glass without compromising performance, Projective Capacitive Touchscreen technology is our suggested solution for outdoor use.

How to Tune The ZyConfig Tool For Outdoor Deployment

When utilising our PCT touchscreen technology, installers benefit from our ZyConfig tool, which allows installers to quickly set up our touchscreen controllers in a sequential approach.

The software allows you to tweak your touchscreen’s performance to cater specifically for its application. However, for manufacturers who want a ‘plug and play’ solution it’s important to note that our screens all work intuitively from the moment you begin using them.

When you first load the software, it will perform a ‘pass’, ‘warning’ or ‘fail’ check on system noise levels, controller and sensor operation – enabling you to quickly diagnose any potential issues. This is a time-saving feature both during an initial installation and during any future maintenance checks.

After an initial check, ZyConfig enables semi-automatic modification of touch controller settings. These settings can be applied across a single screen or thousands – benefitting projects of any scale.  The tool allows a custom active area, which may be useful on an outdoor advertising unit where the manufacturer only wants the left hand-side of the screen to be touch-active - ZyConfig enables you to deactivate part of the screen. You can manually alter sensitivity to suit your outdoor usage and program in palm rejection.

ZyConfig essentially gives you more control over your touchscreen. Our controllers are already adaptive without having to manually program anything – but for those who desire an additional level of control, ZyConfig provides a simple platform for ensuring your touchscreen functions exactly as intended outdoors or in.

The Ideal Touchscreen Technology For The Outdoor World

As touchscreen uptake grows, it is obvious that touchscreen technology in outdoor products will continue to grow in popularity. However, this technology must offer both quality and protection against the elements…

As our society grows increasingly accustomed to responsive touch experiences, it is no longer enough to provide a touchscreen simply withstands bad weather. Now, a screen must withstand weather, resist damage and also offer a smooth, responsive user experience that can register all manner of touch inputs.

Zytronic are proud to design and supply our unique, UK-manufactured touchscreen panels specifically for use in outdoor environments. Zytronic’s patented PCT™ and MPCT™ multitouch projected capacitive touch sensors can operate through toughened glass substrates of thicknesses up to 20mm. Not only does this create a dependable, weather resistant, touch interface, it also offers unrivalled protection against a wide range of physical, mechanical and chemical abuse. Our panels ensure the smooth, responsive performance expected by the smartphone generation in all weathers and all environments.

Whether you are interested in creating interactive digital signage or a more security-led application such as banking, our touchscreens are the perfect solution for your product’s touch panel requirement. We will work together with you to design the perfect touchscreen, testing it thoroughly to ensure it functions outdoors.

Better yet, we have no minimum order quantity – enabling us to create anything from a single point of sale touch panel through to thousands of units for an ATM chain.

Interested? Email us at info@zytronic.com to see how we can design touchscreens that don’t just withstand outdoor environments but excel in them.

If you’d still like to know more about our touchscreens in action in an outdoor application, read the next page to discover how our ZyBrid sensors were implemented in Seoul, South Korea.

Outdoor Touch Sensors Successful in Seoul

Seoul, South Korea - Zytronic’s rugged ZyBrid® touch sensors provide an intuitive and informative new public transport experience in the South Korean capital

Working with Zytronic’s distribution partner in Korea, DTH Co. Ltd, and Sane Co. Ltd., a leading provider of intelligent transportation systems, the project has seen 300 46-inch ZYBRID® touch sensors based on Zytronic’s award-winning Projected Capacitive Technology (PCT™) acquired for integration into the Bus Information

Terminal (BIT) project. BIT replaces existing non-interactive digital signage and offers Seoul’s commuters engaging, easy-to-access real time information about traffic, transit routes and local amenities, with the touch of a finger.

Key Features

  • 46” ZyBrid® touch sensors
  • Functional in all-weather conditions, from hot humid summers, to freezing temperatures, snow and ice.
  • Unaffected by scratches, heavy rain, ice, dirt and dust.

Surtronic - Zytronic Supplies 72-Inch Touch Sensors for Street Based Public Information Display Units

Both the overall robustness and high degree of scalability afforded by Zytronic’s patented Projected Capacitive Technology (PCT™) are underlined in its latest outdoor touchscreen project. The company’s ZyBrid® touch sensors have, via Dutch distributor Telerex, been selected by Surtronic for integration into a public information/digital signage unit that it has developed and is now starting to deploy in busy retail areas across Europe.

Key Features

  • 72” ZyBrid® touch sensor
  • Capable of operating through an 8mm thick tempered glass protective overlay
  • Customised glass with black screen printed border

Infinitus - Zytronic adds rugged touch capability to iMotion® high-definition digital signage for outdoor use

The units are purpose designed for use in all locations, including demanding public outdoor environments such as ski resorts, marinas, golf clubs, amusement parks, filling stations and fairgrounds. The very large display is presented in a choice of portrait or landscape orientation, and in optional 65” or 46” sizes.

The system’s creator, Infinitus of Slovenia, conceived iMotion® to deliver the advantages of cutting-edge technology with complete reliability, drawing standards from the military and automotive industries to achieve its goal.

Key Features

  • 65” ZyTouch® sensor
  • 6mm + 6mm laminated and toughened glass construction
  • Can be sealed to IP67/NEMA4
  • Antireflective coating to enhance readability for users in bright conditions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/108182/children-parents-media-use-attitudes-2017.pdf

[2] https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/press-releases/articles/uk-public-glued-to-smartphones.html

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