Virtual Touch Screens for Augmented Reality

Industrial Virtual Touch Screen

One of the big questions in AR is how to interact with the environment.  Wearing AR glasses allows you to see virtual images projected into the real world.  But how does one interact with the virtual images?  One way is with a virtual touch screen.  This can be done in a number of ways.  One option is to have a camera which tracks the movement and identifies that user's hands and the hand locations in 3D space.  While this sounds good in principle, there are several real world challenges with this. First, identifying the hand as the user's hand and not someone else's hand can be difficult.  And second, tracking the exact hand position and finger tip location requires very sophisticated image processing which may be too processor intensive for the CPU inside the AR glasses.  And third, interacting in 3D space, essentially with air, gives no tactile or haptic feedback.  Waving your hand or fake-pressing in air can be frustrating because your mind is seeing something but your hands are clearly telling you that it does not exist.  For a full immersive effect, this is not ideal.  

A more cost effective way to do it would be to have a touch pad which is the blank canvas for the AR environment.  The touch pad could have a special overlay on it which would be identified by the AR glasses and allow the glasses to project an image on its boundaries.  For example, the touchpad has a special ivory colored overlay which is easily identified by the glasses.  The glasses then project an image on top of the touchpad.  In this case you can now touch the touchpad, get haptic feedback that you are touching an actual object, and the touchpad can track position of the finger(s) and report that back to the AR glasses to allow the proper interaction.  

The touchpad also does not need to be a simple rectangle touchpad.  It can be anywhere, it can be on a device.  For example, a controller or gun could have a touch pad anywhere on it and when the user looks at that location, the glasses could project something on that area that the user can interact with.  Touch sensitive fabrics can be used to add a virtual control panel to a user's sleeve. 

The touchpad could be wired to the glasses, wired to a PC, or wireless with something like bluetooth.  

In general a touchpad in an AR environment could just what the user needs in order to interact with anything required!

What is the Next Level for VR?

by Brian Monson, President, Cirque Corp

Here at Cirque we have a number of VR systems (HTC Vive, Google Daydream, Samsung Galaxy Gear VR) that we play internally and we also invite friends and family of employees to come in and play.  We've had birthday parties, scout groups, family parties, and a number of other large groups come in and play the systems.  When groups come in we observe their experiences, talk with people about how they enjoyed it, and try to learn what we can about how to make the experience even more amazing.  

Businessman playing the Vive VR
Kid Playing the Vive VR.png
Kids playing the Vive VR.png

Thus far we've made a few observations.  First, playing on the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR or the Google Daydream is fun and exciting for everyone for the first 30 minutes.  Being able to move your head around and see the image in full 3D space is amazing.  However, the controllers really fall short of convincing your mind that you are in fact in a different world.  With either product you get into games where you want to directly manipulate objects in the virtual world, but you only have a single button as your main control.  This requires games to be simplified to accommodate only basic interaction and it really simplifies and hurts the game play.  The most typical use case is a game where you want to push a button or pick up an object and the controller image in the game is replaced by an image of a hand.  In this case you use the trigger to move the fingers on the hand, either to pick up the object or to select the button when you are close.  This is simply the only option, the game play demands a hand that interacts with the game and yet the controllers know nothing more than a button has been pressed or not pressed.  

From an immersion standpoint this quickly pushes your mind out of the virtual world and into a confused state.  You've moved your head around, saw the amazing 360 degree views and started to believe that you were somewhere else.  But once you try to truly interact with the environment you realize that you are only playing a game.  The worst example of this is Star Trek: Bridge Crew.  For any Star Trek enthusiast that game is incredible; to be on the deck of a starship is awesome.  The visual experience is so cool that you can easily be tricked into feeling like you are actually flying through space.  However, every time you use your hands to interact with the game you are reminded that your hands are in the real world, not the virtual world.  You press a button to awkwardly mimic the opening and closing of the full hand and you move the controller as if you are moving your hand, but it just doesn't work for an immersive experience.

Virtual Hands in Star Trek: Bridge Crew (Ubisoft)

Virtual Hands in Star Trek: Bridge Crew (Ubisoft)

However, when you play a game with a gun and you look at your hand in the virtual world you see the gun, pull the controller trigger and see the gun trigger move, and are convinced that you have escaped to a new and magical place.  So for any game that requires a trigger, a controller in hand is perfect. 

This has led us at Cirque to realize that VR requires hand sensing; you must be able to see the location of the fingers and project those into the virtual space. It would seem like VR tracking gloves are the ideal solution to this, but they also have many drawbacks.  Many games also work best when you hold a controller that contains a trigger.  To be empty handed has the same negative affect if the game requires a triggered controller.  You want to pull a trigger but wearing a glove there is noting to pull, no tactile sensations at all.  To best accommodate the need for both a trigger and hand position sensing we have developed VR Grip™ technology.  With Cirque's VR Grip technology the position of each finger is tracked both on the surface of the controller and in free space.  This allows the user to open or close individual fingers and see that motion inside the virtual world. This tracking is done on the grip of the controller itself which means that a physical controller is still available and this allows for a triggered controller for use in games that are most natural with a trigger.  

Cirque VR Grip demo hardware in a game with the hand closed on the controller. 

Cirque VR Grip demo hardware in a game with the hand closed on the controller. 

Here, the user has "opened" the hand over the surface of the controller, and the virtual hand reacts appropriately. 

Here, the user has "opened" the hand over the surface of the controller, and the virtual hand reacts appropriately. 

By providing the best of both glove and controller input, VR Grip technology takes VR to the next level.  It allows the user to more directly interact with the virtual world in a realistic and immersive way. By using capacitive sensing, and Cirque's unique design expertise, VR Grip sensors can be fitted to almost any controller design or shape.  

Controllers using VR Grip technology will be hitting the market soon. To learn more about how this solution could fit into your design, and to purchase a development kit, visit our VR Grip solution page

Not Just for Touch - Securing a Magnetic Stripe Reader Using Cirque's Unique Technology

Credit cards and other information cards with magnetic stripes (magstripes) have enjoyed ubiquitous use since the 1980s.  One continual challenge with the magstripe is how to keep the data secure when being read by the magnetic stripe reader (MSR). Skimming devices come in various forms from probing the magnetic head reader (maghead) wires in the MSR to adding a skimming maghead. 

A common practice to protect the data is to embed an encryption chip with key management, and a communication protocol in a potting compound on the back of the tape head.  This overhead is expensive and can be cumbersome to configure and manage.

Another method is to enclose the maghead communication wires in a ‘secure cage’ that triggers a tamper signal to the host processor when an interlock wire is cut or shorted. This is often tedious to manufacture and adds significant expense.

These two methods don’t address another problem of an attacker adding an additional maghead for skimming card information.  Add on skimmers cannot be detect using traditional security cage methods and are not recognized by unsuspecting users. These add on skimmers are often part of a large plastic piece that looks like the original housing unit. It also holds a microprocessor, memory to hold card information for later retrieval or a radio for transmitting information, and a battery to power the circuit. These skimmers can be attached to the original point of sale (POS) unit in a matter of a couple seconds.

A better way to secure the reading of the magstripe is to use Cirque’s touch controller chip (specifically the "Rushmore" 1CAO37 chip). It can be used in two different ways to secure against the two methods of attack described above.

The first way is to connect the basic maghead directly to the Cirque touch controller chip. Cirque’s unique method of measuring small signals reduce the data leakage to an acceptable amount compliant with PCI (Payment Card Industry) standards. The Cirque chip uses a regulated voltage on the sensing electrodes and detects miniscule amounts of current change. It is thus a sensitive current or charge sensing engine. Provided that the Cirque chip in located in a secure cage, the only exposed signals would be the wires going to the maghead which are now, very difficult to probe any useful data from. The impedance of the wires to the maghead can be continuously monitored by the Cirque chip so that any tampering of the wires can be detected. This method of securing the maghead requires no additional secure cages or expensive encryption chips. It can also be implemented with low cost manufacturing techniques.

The other way that a Cirque chip can help keep magstripe data safe is to route additional sensing electrodes in or below the MSR housing around the maghead to create a volume proximity sensor. Using Cirque’s high performance electric field sensing circuitry, any type of skimmer that is placed on the MSR housing, can be detected. It can detect conductive metal objects as well as non-conductive objects with higher permittivity constants such as plastic. With many electrode pins available on the touch controller chip, many areas of terminal can be monitored. Of course, Cirque’s touch IC is also ideal for sensing user touch input on the PIN keypad and touch screen over the display.


Please contact the helpful staff at Cirque if you have interest in discussing our secure MSR methodologies. 

Single Chip Secure Input for Payment Terminals

Cirque SecureSense™ technology has been used in many payment terminals to provide a secure touch screen experience. By using a totally unique method for capacitive touch sensing, Cirque technology can meet payment industry requirements for sensitive PIN data security, without requiring expensive and cumbersome physical protection of the touch screen. 

But what about physical keypads? Many payment terminals still use physical button PIN pads for a verity of reasons, such as ADA compliance. Usually these terminals still feature touch screens for signature capture, and general user interface, but for secure PIN entry the physical keypad is used. Because of the complicated security requirements for PIN data protection, this keypad must be protected, usually through physical means. 

But it is also possible to utilize Cirque technology to provide an additional layer of security for the keypad. In addition to secure touch screen technology, SecureSense has also been used successfully to design capacitive physical PIN pads. This reduces the need to rely on physical protections and can enable more cost effective, thinner designs. 

One of the biggest advantages of this design is that capacitive sensing electrodes from the Cirque controller IC can be used to power both the touch screen and the secure capacitive PIN pad. By using a single chip design for both input devices, its possible to realize the lowest cost and most secure payment terminal designs. 

For more information about Cirque solutions for the secure input, visit the Secure Solutions section of our website, or contact us