Easy Capacitive Touch Sensors In Eagle

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Capacitive sensing libraries for the Arduino and just about every other microcontroller platform have been around for ages now, but if you’d like to put a slightly complex cap sense pad in a PCB without a lot of work, you’re kind of out of luck. Not only do you need a proper education in how capacitors work, but a custom cap sense pad also requires some advanced knowledge of your preferred PCB layout program.

The folks over at PatternAgents have just the solution for this problem. They created an Eagle library of touch widgets that includes everything from buttons, linear and radial sliders, touchpads, and a whole lot more.

The simplest cap sense pad is just a filled polygon on the top layer of a board, but this simple setup isn’t ideal if you want to use Eagle’s autorouter. By playing with the restrict layers in Eagle, PatternAgents were able to create easy cap sense buttons that will work perfectly, without the problems of the autorouter placing traces willy-nilly.

There are more than enough parts to replicate a whole lot of touch interfaces – buttons can easily be made into a smallish keyboard, and the radial touch sensor will emulate the ‘wheel’ interface on an iPod. Very cool stuff, and we can’t wait to see these in a few more boards.

Capacitive sensing tutorial

[Bertho]‘s submission for the 74xx logic contest is really impressive. He designed a capacitive sensing touchpad using only 74xx and 40xx logic chips. We’re impressed with the build and his writeup is one of the best resources we’ve ever seen for capacitive sensing.

There are two ways to go about designing a capacitive touchpad. The first option is put a voltage through an RC circuit. Measure the voltage-time curve, and you have a measure of the capacitance of the circuit. The second method is setting up an RC circuit to change polarity after a threshold for C has been reached. Microprocessors only use one of these methods (AVR uses the first, PIC uses the second), but [Bertho] decided to implement both methods for unknown reasons we still respect.

The circuit [Bertho] designed has a 30MHz clock using only 74xx logic chips, an amazing feat in itself. An 8×8 channel panel was fabricated and the whole build connects to a computer over RS-232.

The finished build is good enough has 64 points of resolution and is able to detect proximity very well. The touchpad is even able to recognize when a pen is placed on the panel. Check out the video after the break for the walk through and demo of this amazing build.

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