UltraSense, Mobase team to bring touch sensing into vehicles

UltraSense Systems, a San Jose, California, company whose in-plane sensing technology enables smart touch interfaces in vehicles, this week saw its automotive market aspirations get a big boost through a new partnership with Mobase Electronics Co. Ltd., a Korean tier-supplier of automotive switches.

Daniel Goehl, co-founder and chief business officer of UltraSense, told Fierce Electronics that Mobase is using UltraSense’s TouchPoint Q TapForce HMI controller technology as part of its “solid-state infotainment button bar” to go inside vehicles from multiple automakers. 

“The first vehicle will be out in early 2024 with our stuff and then subsequent models will roll out throughout the rest of 2024 within South Korea,” he said.

Further collaboration with Mobase will involve the use of UltraSense CapForce HMI controllers.

The news also served as the launchpad for TouchPoint Q, which UltraSense described as “the world’s first piezoelectric strain sensor designed to bring a better touch experience to automotive interfaces.” The company claims TouchPoint Q improves upon existing capacitive touch systems that can be both over-sensitive and under-sensitive, translation to false function triggers and poor user experience. Goehl said that as a result automakers and their OEMs have been cautious about adopting solid-surface capacitive touch systems that use force sensing technology.

TouchPoint Q leverages the company’s QuadForce architecture, which “uses a MEMS process to etch four microscopic strain sensors per chip into a piezoelectric film material applied to the surface of an ASIC processor wafer,” according to an UltraSense statement. “The strain sensors, using the Piezoelectric Effect and as an inherent AC sensor (vs DC), detect surface deflection down to the 100-nanometer level – movement not detectable with the human eye.”

According to research firm Data Intelo, the global automotive touch sensor market is expected to grow at a 6.5% compound annual growth rate from 2022 to 2030, and automakers migrate from mechanical buttons to flat screens, similar to the migration mobile phone makers make to touch sensing.

Goehl described the partnership as a significant step in UltraSense’s ability to gain market traction for its sensing technology in a global automotive market in which automakers in different countries tend to move at different paces in adopting new technology.

“We also have a design win in China for a steering wheel design using our TouchPoint Q,” he said, adding, “We're also working with several of the European tier suppliers as well, and… we're working directly with some of the EV OEMs here in the US. When you look at the aggressiveness of adoption of new technology, I think clearly Tesla's the fastest, and then I think China OEMs or tier suppliers like to adopt technology very quickly, and then Korea and then probably Europe, in their premium cars, and then probably the U.S. and Japan… Hopefully we'll be in some of the U.S. EV cars next year as well. I can't really say too much about that, just that we have a lot of irons in the fire there with different programs.”

UltraSense last year talked to Fierce Electronics about its in-plane sensing technology, although the company refers to its touch sensors not as sensors, but as human-machine interface (HMI) controllers. “HMI controllers have a built-in microcontroller in there,” Goehl said. “All of the touch detection algorithms are running locally inside the chip. We have the ability to drive the LEDs to light the icon, and then we communicate directly with the haptic controller so that you can have immediate tactile feedback.”