Mobile Gaming Game Changer

Can a next-generation touch technology help make mobile gaming even more irresistible?

When asked to put my finger on why smartphone games aren’t as good as they could be, I usually joke, “Exactly! You have this great screen, this great hand-holdable form factor and a fantastic game. What you don’t have is see-through fingers.” Fingers and hands get in the way of the great mobile gaming experience going on underneath them. Game developers have tried to work around our thumbs and fingertips, but those workarounds come at the expense of intuitive controls or the game itself.

Figure 1:  The Flitchio  smartphone case from SUPENTA is described by the company as the world’s first to have rear mounted joysticks.

Figure 1: The Flitchio smartphone case from SUPENTA is described by the company as the world’s first to have rear mounted joysticks.

What if smartphones could only have screens free from fingers, with intuitive controls that augment every app? What if those controls could complement the form factor and design of the device? Most importantly, what if smartphones could have all that new control Nirvana without decreasing battery life ?
To date, technologies and designs have fallen short, as we continue to settle for a capacitive-sensing touch screen alone. One company trying to pull us out of this user-experience rut is SUPENTA, a London-based start-up that has created a smartphone case with controllers on the case’s back and side.

Usable Joysticks Behind the Screen?

While SUPENTA isn’t the first to do this, it is the first company to add a wireless-powered, energy efficient, user experience that goes beyond making games better. Dr. Amir Shadmand, CEO and co-founder of SUPENTA, explained, “When you watch a movie or You Tube on a smartphone, you want to enjoy it on the complete screen. We wanted to give gamers the same immersive, full screen experience. The back of the phone is a natural place to put the controls, as it’s where your fingers comfortably fall (Figure 1). We discovered that putting controls there is so intuitive that it takes only a few minutes for users to become used to using joysticks on the back of the smartphone.” Shadmand added, “We found testers not only wanted to control a variety of apps they even wanted to control other devices.”

To get the sensitivity and consistency required to give this innovative design the tactile response it needed, SUPENTA partnered with Peratech for its Quantum Tunnelling Composite™ (QTC™) technology. Peratech invented a screen-printable ink it uses to make a thin sensor that measures multiple touch points in three dimensions: x and y for location, and z for pressure. Just one, thin Peratech sensor drives all of Flitchio’s different inputs simultaneously.

How to Shrink Power and Processing Requirements

Flitchio leverages the advantage that QTC-based sensors use very little current when sensing, nor do they require complex algorithms or high-powered processors to resolve positional information. As a result, the case has very low power requirements, and can take power wirelessly from the smartphone’s near field communication (NFC) antenna. SUPENTA believes this is a world’s first and could open up a whole new area of mobile accessory design that uses a smartphone’s NFC as its power source.

“Peratech’s QTC-based sensors enabled us to make the joysticks sensitive, accurate and thin, so our controls fit into a smartphone case. Peratech’s sensors also allowed Flitchio to get its power from a smartphone without frustrating gamers who want to preserve as much battery life as possible,” Shadmand explained. “We were able to do this because Peratech sensors are not affected by, nor do they provide any electromagnetic interference to the NFC module.”

He added, “The innovations brought to reality in Flitchio have generated inquiries from companies wanting us to create bespoke versions for their projects, including one company that wants us to design a smartphone-based drone controller. The applications for our ultra-slim, energy efficient, NFC-powered controllers are even broader than we expected.”

SUPENTA’s innovation is just one example of how user experiences are moving past projected capacitive touchscreen technology by adding or replacing it with the creative use of QTC force sensing technology to create the next generation of touch technologies.

Quantum Tunnelling Composite Technology

QTC materials are a new class of materials that decrease their electrical resistance when a force, usually pressure or touch, is applied. QTC-based inks are made from a blend of semi-conductive nanoparticles distributed in a polymer binder, the composition of which is optimised for screen-print production, consistency at high and low temperatures, and durability over millions of activations. The unique, patented material promotes electrons to tunnel through the nanoparticle dispersion by quantum tunnelling , so the nanoparticles don’t have to touch for quantum tunnelling to occur.– This is one of the reasons why QTC materials have such stable, unique properties and form a new class of applied materials physics.

Over the past year, Peratech has honed its QTC ink formulation so that its electrical resistance changes from insulator to conductor, gradually or suddenly depending on how hard and fast you press on it. Similarly, the amount of force that needs to be applied to bring about the desired changes can be adjusted from a feather-touch to a heavyweight punch.

Peratech Told Where to Stick it… QTC sensors, that is

Once Peratech stopped selling ink that people struggled to apply and started manufacturing sensor components that people knew how to use, the company was inundated with feasible innovative ideas from a wide variety of industries.

Because QTC sensors interface directly with standard electronics, it’s easy to create new force sensing solutions with them. Pretty much anyone with Arduino skills and a sound idea can create an application for anything from robotics to automotive, from touch screens to consumer electrical products.

QTC pressure sensors and switches are produced on mass-production lines, are mechanically strong, and easily integrated into electronics making them viable for use in a variety of high-commercial and high-reliability applications. The key challenge now becomes mechanics—where can you stick the sensor and get it to perform as intended? SUPENTA jumped in front, because they knew how they were going to leverage the mechanics of a joystick.

Since then, Peratech has helped automotive electronics manufacturers put it under dash and console surfaces (plastic, leather, wood laminate, steel, etc.) so they can reclaim the cockpit for style and brand. Peratech has also worked with appliance manufacturers to put QTC sensors under stainless steel and plastic surfaces to create smart controls on kitchen and smart-home appliances. Companies are putting QTC sensors in floors, shoes, and in prosthetics too.

Innovation has turned to the third dimension as far as touch is concerned. While SUPENTA has pioneered new user-experience paths with game and drone controls, who knows what the next innovation will be as companies embrace the next generation of human machine interfaces that QTC force sensors make possible.

Jonathan Stark currently serves as a Director and CEO of Peratech Holdco Limited, a force-sensing technology solutions company, providing next-generation human machine interfaces with its proprietary QTC® based sensors and embedded touch-display development environment.

Prior to Peratech, Stark was the VP of Printed Electronics at MFLEX (NASDAQ: MFLX), the largest US flexible-circuit and assembly company, where he successfully led multiple new-technology commercialization efforts including the mass production of a printed touch-display module in a high-end notebook PC that won multiple awards at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2014. During his tenure at MFLEX, Stark also held executive-level positions in and Strategy and Marketing, when MFLEX was awarded Deloitte’s Fast 50 Technology companies.

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