Quantum Material ‘Could Replace All Switches’

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

All switches could one day be replaced with an ultra-thin quantum material which adds pressure sensitivity, says Philip Taysom, CEO of Peratech

Peratech hit the headlines today with the deal to put its pressure-sensitive quantum material into phone touchscreens and navigation keys. The announcement caught eWEEK Europe’s attention in the run-up to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but this could be just the start of a revolution, the CEO told us.

“Our goal is wherever there is a switch, it will be replaced with QTC [Peratech’s quantum tunnelling composite material],” Philip Taysom said. The company doesn’t have a product, simply a new material with new properties, he says, much like copper, silver or – to take a man-made example – Teflon.

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“Our material can be used in so many different things,” he said, running off a list including clothing, sensors for robots or prosthetic limbs, as well as the mobile phone applications announced today.

We start with the phones, though. Samsung ME’s pressure-sensitive navikey is already built into a phone, but he can’t tell us which one, only that it is a Windows Mobile 6.5 device, and is apparently available on Expansys (our search for “pressure sensitive key” on that site turns up an HTC phone running windows Mobile 6 – we don’t think it’s that one).

Suppose your phone is displaying a page five or six screens long, he said. “With our technology, you squeeze a little harder, and the screen scrolls down faster. You gently lift off when you’re near what you want.”

Pressure sensitive screens have been tried in various ways, such as the Blackberry Storm, but they tend to be clunky, he said. Another approach uses a “proximity sensor” – in fact, just using the size of the finger tip to guess how hard it is being pressed, but this is terribly inaccurate, he said.

A pressure-sensing screen border

The technology is a polymer which becomes more conductive when pressed, because spiky conductive nano-particles inside it are pushed close enough to allow electrons to “tunnel” between them according to quantum mechanical effects.

As a polymer, the material can be printed in a liquid ink onto any surface, in a thin layer which could eventually be ten or fifteen microns thick. It can also be turned into fibres for use in textile applications.

In phones, at the moment, the technology has to be used in addition to existing touch screens, said Taysom. It can’t be made transparent, so touchscreen maker Nissha Printing will put it in a border round the edge of a conventional capacitive or resistive touchscreen, behind a flat sheet of glass.

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