Touchless touch screen gives you control without contact (video)

New technology from chipmaker STMicroelectronics lets you control your smartphone or tablet without actually touching the display.

BARCELONA, Spain--One of the more jaw-dropping tech demos on view at this year's Mobile World Congress, new touch-screen technology from chipmaker STMicroelectronics lets you control your smartphone or tablet without actually touching the display.

Using it, you can swipe, drag, and prod at your touch-screen device, replacing the fear of fingerprints with the feeling of controlling a spaceship's navigation system.

There's nothing special about the touch screen itself, but rather about the controller chip that manages the panel. Rather than monitoring contact with the screen, the chip observes the electrical field that the tablet's touch screen is giving off.

If your finger makes its way into that electrical field, the circuit is closed and your "touch" is registered. I was able to control the touch screen from as far away as nearly 2 inches.

STMicroelectronics calls its chip tech Fingertip, and I saw the system up and running on a Nexus 7 tablet. Because the touch screen is so sensitive, I was also able to register my prods and pokes using a pencil, even when holding that pencil in a very thick skiing glove. I was told that high sensitivity and a high signal-to-noise ratio were crucial to making the tech work.

The technology isn't perfectly refined yet, and it took me a while to get the hang of swiping from left to right in apps to move through screens. Nevertheless, STMicroelectronics will be trying to persuade smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung to use its controller chips in upcoming smartphones, so you never know -- we could see this hovering hand control coming to devices before too long.

What do you think of the no-touching touch screen? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to ogle more of our Mobile World Congress coverage.

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About the author

Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.

 

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