Enter the world of Peratech, a company based on North Yorkshire, the U.K.
Peratech, which invented quantum tunneling composites (QTC) materials, is now leveraging its intellectual property to design touch/force-sensing solutions.
QTC applications are not limited to smartphones and tablets which already sport touch screens. Quantum Tunneling can be applied to a variety of control buttons for medical, industrial equipment, game consoles’ joysticks and center-stacks in cars.
Super reconfigurable buttons
With QTC, Peratech CEO Jon Stark said, “We are making a super reconfigurable button that you can push with intent.”
QTC is composed essentially of nano-particle materials. QTC changes its electrical resistance based on changes in applied force. Peratech has enabled quantum tunneling by “selecting the precise shape of certain conductive nanoparticles and carefully controlling the processes used to blend them with other particles,” according to the company.
Compared to conventional capacitive touch sensing technology, QTC has a distinct edge. For example, by adding force to touch, “we can eliminate accidental touching, which can happen with capacitive touch,” said Stark. Further, “You can touch the QTC buttons with gloved hands or with any stylus.” Because QTC-enabled touch buttons can also measure force, they add “a level of control, reliability, and range to create a real-world touch experience,” the company explained.
Today, QTC is produced as a screen printable polymer-based ink — in opaque and transparent versions. Its material can be added to a regular screen, or any other surfaces. “The integration of QTC takes up no space,” said Stark. “We play with others [screens] very well.” Moreover, QTC requires no signal processing in a host processor, he added, thus reducing a system’s power consumption.
The bottom line? “We can print a smart button on any surface of any materials – including laminated wood,” said Stark. “That, I think, is the dream of every industrial designer.”
Further, because you can literally “print” tiny, force-sensing buttons on a surface — the sides of a smartphone, for example – it’s not necessary to punch out little holes on the plastic case.
Peratech isn’t exactly a startup. The company was founded in 1996. Peratech spent more than a decade vending proprietary materials and software, with the company’s business squarely focused on licensing. Peratech eventually closed this business in 2013.
With the company’s core IP fully intact, Peratech was reborn in July, 2014, under new ownership, new management and a new business model.
A team of thirty, including six engineers from the original Peratech, is now run by Jon Stark, former vice president and general manager of printed electronics at MFLEX, the largest flexible printed circuit firm in the United States. Stark also has management consulting experience at JP Morgan Chase, Virgin Mobile USA.
The Peratech team also includes chief commercial officer Michael Levin, who’s no stranger to the touch-sensing technology. Levin was senior business manager at Synaptics, vice president of business development at Pacinian and vice president of technology & partnerships / general manager of touch interface products at Immersion.
Stark has shifted Peratech’s business model from IP licensing to product commercialization. “The licensing model just takes too long,” said Stark.
By rolling out its QTC development kit, Peratech wants as many developers as possible to try “reconfigurable super buttons” – enabled by QTC. Such developers include the maker community, robotic group to automotive tier ones and large CE companies.
Knowing where to exit, adding more testing
But the Peratech CEO is also mindful of a common trap for many technology startups. They stretch themselves too thin trying to support too many customers and projects.
In support of customers, Peratech takes pride in functioning almost as a “product coach.” Peratech closely follows customers’ product development life cycle. This cycle typically involves design concept, proof of technology, proof of product concept, design in and proof of manufacturing. Peratech does a risk analysis, explained Stark. “We try to understanding the promise of a product our clients are making, and knowing what would take to guarantee that promise.”
Most important is “to know where to exit,” when things aren’t working out.
This rue of thumb – the ability to make big decisions early on – is described by David Matheson, who teaches at Stanford Univ. and co-founded SmartOrg, explained Stark.
After such a “risk-addressed, uncertainty-aware proof of concept stage,” Peratech offers clients rigorous testing during product development. “We add value in testing,” said Levin. With 30 people working around the clock – the team is dispersed from South Korea, Stockholm, Sweden to North Yorkshire, the U.K. and California — “we provide our support around the clock, spot problems and make changes.”
Naturally, Peratech isn’t the only company offering flexible touch technology. Its competitors include: Japan’s Nissha Printing Co. claims to have “touch panels” that lead in touch input technology. Canatu in Finland is a manufacturer of transparent conductive films for an entirely new class of touch applications. Plastic Logic (Dresden, Germany) says it’s a leader “in the design and manufacture of flexible, glass-free electrophoretic displays (EPD).”
Peratech believes its advantage is in the ease of integrating its technology into many standard processes, explained Stark. Further, Peratech is also striving to spread its application IPs as widely as possible, while protecting its core IP.
Peratech is now engaged in 12 concurrent projects, including “design contracts with Tier Ones” in the automotive industry.
About the author:
Junko Yoshida is Chief International Correspondent for EE Times