Company seeks to conquer the touchscreen space with its latest generation of capacitive products

In today’s electronic world, touchscreens have become somewhat ubiquitous, used in everything from ATMs to iPods. However, as the good people at 3M Touch Systems are quick to point out, just because they are commonplace does not mean all touchscreen systems are created equal, at least when it comes to the gaming industry.

“We have the broadest experience of any touch supplier within the gaming segment and provide that experience to our customers on a daily basis around the globe,” said Scott Hagermoser, gaming business unit manager for Methuen, Mass.-based 3M Touch Systems. “Our sensor technology and electronics bring not only the rigorous laboratory testing one would expect from 3M but also the most field testing of any touch product in the gaming segment.  Literally, millions of [our] touch systems are in the field being used daily.”

Formed in 2001 when parent company 3M acquired touch systems manufacturers Dynapro Thin Films and MicroTouch Systems, 3M Touch Systems offers a portfolio of touch technologies and hardware designed to meet the needs of the gaming, commercial entertainment, retail, hospitality, foodservice, self service, interactive signage and healthcare industries. Within the gaming space, 3M Touch Systems provides solutions for both the machine manufacturing and casino operations ends of the business, and the company’s most successful product to date has been the MicroTouch ClearTek II surface capacitive touch system, according to Hagermoser. “3M Touch Systems provides touch sensor and touch electronics components primarily to slot and video card game manufacturers, as well as replacement products to gaming operators through gaming distribution channels,” he said. “The MicroTouch ClearTek II touch system is the current touch-interface standard for the slot gaming industry.”

The ClearTek II system offers optimized optics that facilitate display integration and create a more environment-friendly touch screen, according to company literature. ClearTek II touch screens, combined with the solid foundation of MicroTouch EX II electronics and robust MicroTouch software, offer high -endurance solutions for a multitude of touch applications where robust 24-hour performance, vibrant optics and environmental toughness is mission critical.

Other MicroTouch products that have carved a space in the gaming industry include the MicroTouch ToughTouch II, a surface capacitive system specifically designed for high-volume public access applications; the MicroTouch DST, which is fast becoming the preferred touch system for large-screen interactive LCD displays; and MicroTouch EX II, the capacitive touch electronics that power ClearTek II and ToughTouch II sensors.

Next generation

Lately, however, the 3M Touch Systems product that has garnered the most gaming interest is the MicroTouch Capacitive TouchSense (MCT) system. MCT is a next-generation touch interface for gaming machines where players receive tactile feedback on the touch screen surface as well as the traditional audio and visual cues.

The system is an enhanced MicroTouch ClearTek II touch system and can either be designed into future gaming cabinets optimized for tactile touch slot games or retrofitted into existing on-floor casino games to replace CRT or LCD displays. This system has allowed game manufacturers to replace their mechanical buttons with a video-based button panel so players receive tactile feedback similar to pressing a mechanical button.

By working with their preferred display integrators, casinos can upgrade their existing CRTs to tactile touch-enabled LCDs or add tactile touch components to existing LCDs. Then, tactile touch zones are created (resident in the touch screen controller’s firmware) to correspond with existing software touch buttons. Because the tactile touch zones reside within the touch controller and not the CPU, this upgrade has no impact on the regulated operation of the casino game.

“[The MCT] tactile feedback enhancement to the ClearTek II product is destined to be the next generation touch interface for gaming machines,” Hagermoser said.

Hagermoser added that GTECH subsidiary Speilo announced they will start using the MCT system.

The MCT systems also recently nabbed the top spot in the Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Technology Product of 2007, sponsored by Casino Journal. Contest judges said MCT was “an innovative twist to old games” and that it “takes slot machines to the next level of interactive play.”

Recognition for a job well done is wonderful, but Hagermoser was quick to point out that 3M Touch Systems is not resting on its MCT system laurels. “The gaming business is one of several important businesses for 3M Touch Systems and we foresee significant growth opportunities as this segment transitions to server-based gaming over the next several years.”