The Mechanics Behind The Magic

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[by Stephanie Chedíd]

A multi-touch, pressure sensitive input device that can be used by artists, musicians, developers, gamers, and hobbyists alike sounds almost too good to be true.  Lucky for you, it’s not.

Before taking a deeper dive into the technology that makes Sensel what it is, let’s talk a bit about the competition (and how, some might say, it pales in comparison).  Currently, the most advanced technology apart from that which Sensel has created is Force Touch.  The force sensitivity in Force Touch was created by placing four force sensors on the computer’s touchpad, one on each corner.  Force Touch uses a capacitive sensor to detect fingers and other conductive objects.  These are some fancy words — what do they mean exactly?  Essentially, Force Touch can only detect fingers or objects like a stylus, but cannot detect other objects, like paintbrushes or a regular pen.  Furthermore, it only senses the overall force (i.e. the total pressure being applied by finger(s) to the touchpad).

Technology like Force Touch didn’t sound too shabby, until something better came along.  Enter Sensel.  Our team of dedicated engineers who started Sensel realized that the problem with FSR (Force Sensitive Resistor) was that they are generally low resolution and (until now) no one has been able to successfully make a high resolution array of FSRs that are cost effective.  You can call Sensel’s technology an “evolution” of FSR, as it’s based on the same general principles.  What was made, though, is truly a next generation technology.

Sensel has gotten rid of capacitive touch altogether.  We’ve created an extremely high resolution array of force sensors; the density of sensors in the product is 1 every square millimeter — that makes for over 500 sensors every square inch.  Additionally, Sensel uses standard manufacturing processes, allowing us to reliably build their product in high volume.

The three core innovations (from standard FSR) that Sensel has pioneered are as follows:

    1. Manufacturing: Sensel uses a new structure that allows us to take advantage of standard lithographic manufacturing processes (similar to how semiconductors are built).  In contrast, most FSRs available on the market today are screen printed (typically on a Mylar™ film), and thus cannot achieve high resolution or consistency, in comparison  to Sensel’s process.
    2. Force Sensing Layer: Our team worked closely with a material scientist to custom-formulate a “highly-tuned polymer layer” which gives the product the ability to sense force.  This material gives the product the ability to have very high sensitivity and a high dynamic range.  In other words, it can detect anything from a feather-light tap to a hard push.
    3. Electrical Drive Scheme:  Every kind of sensor that is created needs electronics to power it and read out signals.  We developed an electrical drive scheme — meaning that we came up with circuitry that allows us to read out a very high resolution sensor with low cost electronics, and do so very efficiently and quickly.  Low power consumption + High Speed + Low cost = awesome).

Also innovative is the company’s firmware.  Sensel is able to process everything in their firmware, rather than requiring special drivers, and has developed firmware that’s optimized towards scanning this specific sensor.

What does all of this mean for Sensel users?  If you’re using a Sensel product, you’re using the best multi-touch, force-sensitive input device available on the market.  Unlike the competition, this device can detect every object (from a finger to a paintbrush to cup) and senses the force of each touch, separately.  In other words, if you have four fingers on the device, it can detect how much pressure you are exerting with  each individual finger, and react accordingly (i.e. multi-touch force).  Sensel is also very scalable, meaning we can create the sensor in any size (ranging from a small watch to a table-sized sensor).

Whether you’re a DJ, a gamer, an artist, or an engineer, you can build, create, and innovate with Sensel technology. Fuel your creativity with a product made by innovators, for innovators, and a technology that stands out from the rest.

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