Next Generation Interfaces for Food Processing Equipment

Cleanliness, durability and precision control are essential ingredients of cutting edge food processing equipment. New interactive holographic actuation and control technology offers convenient, reliable and tough interfaces to interact with mission-critical food processing equipment by simply passing a finger though holographic images of what would otherwise be keys of keyboards or icons on keypads or touch screens, floating in the air at locations convenient to the operator. Since there's nothing to actually touch, all hygiene issues are neatly bypassed.



Limitations of some human-machine interfaces ("HMIs") presently used in food processing equipment include:
• even so-called "ruggedized" keypads and touch screens can be gobbled up by demanding food processing environments
• in clean environments where food is processed, direct personal control of essential electronics may be compromised because keyboards, keypads and touch screens cannot really be kept clean
• skilled personnel must regularly clean conventional interfaces, wasting time and talent that could be better spent on more productive tasks
• repeated operation may challenge operator's endurance or strength
• may malfunction or fail under heavy use
• cannot stand up to dirt, moisture, oil and other hazards of the "factory floor"
• don't have large enough characters and icons to be operated easily and comfortably by distracted or tired workers, or under less than optimum light conditions
• have housings that allow dirt or liquids to seep into tender inner circuitry, hastening interface failure
• aren't durable
• have membranes that can be damaged by careless or even normal use
• reflect glare into the operator's eyes
• are noisy


A Holographic Control Solution

HoloTouch( offers a pragmatic solution to many of the weaknesses of conventional HMIs such keyboards, keypads and touch screens, including:
• hygienic operation - holographic HMIs offer precision control of electronics that must be clean, without touching anything
• little strength required because there's nothing to actually touch
• no moving parts to malfunction or fail under heavy use
• superior resistance to dirt, temperature changes, moisture and other hazards of the "factory floor" that often interfere with proper functioning or result in failure of tactile HMIs
• convenient-sized holographic "keyboards" - more comfortable to operate than present keyboards and keypads of PDA's and other personal electronics
• durable housings, since only the sensor emitter/detector and hologram (see below) of a holographic HMI are exposed to the operator's surroundings; that shields inner circuitry from dirt, liquids and other hazards of the workplace
• high resistance to shock and other physical trauma
• no sensitive membranes to be damaged by chemicals or sharp objects in the workplace
• quiet operation, the result of no moving parts
• free-floating holographic images that produce no glare


How HoloTouch Works

HoloTouch combines two well-known and well-developed technologies (holograms and wave source sensors such as infra-red emitters and detectors) to allow the precision operation of many types of electronic and electro-mechanical equipment by simply passing a finger through holographic images of what would otherwise be the keys or buttons of that equipment, floating in the air at a location convenient to the operator(s).


Free-Floating Holographic Images

A schematic of the principles of patented HoloTouch technology involved in projecting into space holographic images of what would otherwise be the keys of the HMI to be controlled is shown in Figure 1. In Figure 1, 207 represents the holographic image of the "keys" of the HMI, projected from hologram 206. If hologram 206 is a transmission hologram, the illumination source 216,' providing reconstruction beam 266 for holographic image 207, is positioned behind hologram 206 relative to the operator. However, if hologram 206 is a reflection hologram, the illumination source 216, providing reconstruction beam 266, is positioned on the same side of hologram 206 as the operator.


Sensors Scan Free-Floating Holographic Images

A wide variety of wave source sensors is readily available in the commercial market for use in scanning the plane of the holographic image(s) of a holographic HMI, the selection of which depends upon the configuration and size of those images as well as the location of those images in relation to the HMI and the number of selections which those images are meant to offer operator(s) of the HMI.

A schematic of the principles of the patented HoloTouch technology involved in detecting the insertion of a finger into holographic images of what would otherwise be the keys of the holographic HMI to be controlled is shown in Figure 2. For the sake of simplicity, the schematic shown is Figure 2 assumes that holographic images 207, 208 and 272a, the latter representing a "key" of the holographic HMI, are being generated according to the principles shown in Figure 1. In Figure 2, 300 is an actuation detector. 350 is a wave source which emits scanning beam 360 that senses when finger 11 enters the space where holographic image 272a appears to be, resulting in reflected beam 370's signal to actuation detector 300 that the operator has entered the command represented by holographic image 272a. The resulting command is then transmitted to the equipment controlled by the holographic HMI.


Current Applications for HoloTouch

HoloTouch, Inc. expects to initially deploy this innovative technology in equipment allowing surgeons in operating rooms to directly control monitors and other mission-critical equipment that must presently be controlled by other operating room personnel, because keyboards, keypads and touch screens cannot be effectively sterilized. HoloTouch offers surgeons and other skilled healthcare workers in sterile environments direct control of essential equipment because holographic HMIs allow data entry without touching anything.

In addition, HoloTouch, Inc. is working with several different manufacturers to bring HoloTouch to facilities for "factory floor" applications, where chemical, dirt and shock are important issues, games, military hardware, point-of-sale and other kiosk applications and outdoor electronics, where corrosion, dirt, extreme temperatures and shock damage or interfere with the normal functioning of conventional HMIs, just to name a few of HoloTouch's more immediate applications.