Thursday, August 11, 2011

Touch screens – theory versus reality

Keyboards and mice are a problem out on the plant floor. They get dirty and soon stop working, they get “borrowed”, and they need a tray of some kind so they can be used. These are all good reasons for using a touch screen interface. Another reason, one that’s growing in importance, is the iPad effect. People are coming to expect sophisticated touch screen interfaces on their electronic devices, so why don’t we just throw out the old QWERTY plastic and go truly “digital” (by which I mean the digit on the end of your arm)?

It was an announcement from National Instruments (NI) regarding two new touch panel computers that got me thinking about this again. NI has released the TPC-2206 with a 6 inch touch panel for $1,399 and the more useful 12 inch TPC-2212 at $2,299. These both use the Intel Atom processor and run XP Embedded. So why aren’t I rushing to get my order in?

Here are the issues I have:
  • Expensive
  • Limited computing power
  • Limited connectivity options
  • Old-fashioned single finger touch

I can’t imagine myself deploying these out in the plant: the downsides just outweigh what I gain by losing the mouse and keyboard. But if I could deploy an industrial iPad …

Where do you stand on touch screens? (I hope it’s obvious that I don’t mean that literally!) Take our poll above and check back in a few for the results.


Anonymous said...

In a few years the mouse will be dead. A relic finally layed to rest after 25 years of PC dominance. Smart phones and tablets are training the population to use gestures and multi-touch to interface with devices.

Beyond interacing with devices, at NIWeek this year they showed how LabVIEW programmers will be using multi-touch and gestures to program applications in the future. No keyboard or mouse required! Engineering has finally caught up to graphical programming.

In the future I expect to walk up to any of my networked devices (including vision systems) and communicate with it using my tablet. No local touch screen or physical keyboard required.

Anonymous said...

You can just buy a touchscreen monitor and attach it to a PC. You don't need a fully-contained industrial computer ($$$).

Touchscreens can be a pain for machine vision, but many applications can use them successfully if the UI is designed with a touchscreen in mine.