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Title:
INPUT DEVICE WITH ELASTIC MEMBRANE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2011/094877
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A device includes a flexible polymer membrane (101) with compliant electrodes (108, 108a,..., 111) attached thereto. The membrane (101) is suspended in a frame (102). A handle (103), which is displaceable in respect to the frame (102), is connected to the membrane (101). A displacement of the handle (103) causes the electrodes (108, 108a,..., 111) on the membrane to be deformed, thereby changing their area and resistance. The change of area or resistance is measured by a capacitive or resistive sensing circuit (140, 141, 142) and is used to measure the deformation and therefore the displacement of the handle (103).

Inventors:
ROSSET, Samuel (Riedweg 12, Dübendorf, CH-8600, CH)
ROMER, Christoph (Riedackerstrasse 10, Zürich, CH-8051, CH)
SCHNEIDER, Damian, Maria (Kolbenacker 28, Zürich, CH-8052, CH)
NIEDERER, David, A. R. (Kirchbergstrasse 3, Küttigen, CH-5024, CH)
ASCHWANDEN, Manuel (Schumacherweg 44, Zürich, CH-8046, CH)
Application Number:
CH2010/000036
Publication Date:
August 11, 2011
Filing Date:
February 08, 2010
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
OPTOTUNE AG (Ueberlandstrasse 129, Dübendorf, CH-8600, CH)
ROSSET, Samuel (Riedweg 12, Dübendorf, CH-8600, CH)
ROMER, Christoph (Riedackerstrasse 10, Zürich, CH-8051, CH)
SCHNEIDER, Damian, Maria (Kolbenacker 28, Zürich, CH-8052, CH)
NIEDERER, David, A. R. (Kirchbergstrasse 3, Küttigen, CH-5024, CH)
ASCHWANDEN, Manuel (Schumacherweg 44, Zürich, CH-8046, CH)
International Classes:
G05G9/047; G06F3/033; G06F3/0338
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
E. BLUM & CO. AG (Vorderberg 11, Zürich, CH-8044, CH)
Download PDF:
Claims:
Claims

1. An input device comprising

a frame (102),

a flexible polymer membrane (101) held in the frame (102), a compliant sensing electrode (108, 108a - d) arranged on or in said membrane (101), and

a handle (103) mounted to said frame (102) and connected to said membrane (101), wherein said handle (103) is displaceable at least along a first direction (X) parallel to said membrane (101), wherein a displacement of said handle (103) in said first direction (X) causes a deformation of said sensing electrode (108, 108a - d).

2. The input device of claim 1, wherein, in the absence of an external force applied to said handle (103), said membrane (101) moves said handle (103) to a zero position, and wherein, upon application of said external force to said handle (103), said handle (103) is displaced from said zero position against a resetting force of said membrane (101).

3. The input device of claim 2 wherein, when said handle (103) is in said zero position, said membrane (101) is elastically extended, advantageously by at least 20%.

4. The input device of any of the preceding claims wherein said membrane (101) comprises a suspended section (101 a) suspended within said frame (102), wherein said handle (103) is connected to a part of said suspended section (101a) and wherein at least part of said sensing electrode (108, 108a - d) is arranged on or in said suspended section (101a).

5. The input device of any of the preceding claims further comprising a resistance sensing circuit (140, 141) connected to said sensing electrode (108, 108a - d),

and in particular wherein device comprises a reference electrode (108e) arranged on said membrane (101), wherein said resistance sensing circuit (140, 141) is adapted to measure a resistance (Rx) of said sensing electrode (108, 108a - d) in respect to a resistance (Rref) of said reference electrode (108e).

6. The input device of any of the preceding claims comprising at least a top (1 1 1) and a bottom (108a - d) sensing electrode arranged on opposite sides of said membrane (101) and a capacitance sensing circuit (140, 141 , 142) connected to said top and bottom sensing electrodes.

7. The input device of any of the preceding claims, wherein said handle (103) is displaceable in said first direction (X) parallel to said membrane (101) and in a second direction (Y) parallel to said membrane (101) and perpendicular to said first direction (X), wherein said input device further comprises

at least one first sensing electrode (108a, 108b) deformed upon displacement of said handle (103) in said first direction (X), and

at least one second sensing electrode (108c, 108d) deformed upon displacement of said handle (103) in said second direction (Y).

8. The input device of any of the preceding claims, wherein said handle (103) is displaceable in a third direction (Z) perpendicular to said membrane (101), wherein said input device further comprises

a first contact electrode (1 13a) mounted to said membrane (101), a second contact electrode (1 13b) mounted to said frame (102), and a gap (1 13c) between said first and second contact electrodes, wherein a sufficient displacement of said handle (103) along said third direction (Z) deforms said membrane (101) for expanding, narrowing or closing said gap (1 13c).

9. The input device of any of the preceding claims comprising a support surface (102c) extending parallel to said membrane (101) and having an opening (102b) therein, wherein said handle (103) comprises

a head section (103 a) having a sliding surface (103 b) resting against said support surface (102c), and

a shaft section (103 c) extending from said head section (103 a) through said opening (102b) and being anchored in said membrane (101).

10. The input device of any of the preceding claims comprising a first limiter (102a, 102e) restricting a displacement of said handle (103) along said first direction (X), wherein said first limiter is mounted to said frame (102), and in particular wherein said first limiter (102a, 102e) comprises an elastic limiter section (102e) softer than said frame (102).

1 1. The input device of any of the preceding claims further comprising a second limiter (102a, 1 12; 1 13) preventing a displacement of said handle (103) in a third direction (Z) perpendicular to said membrane (101).

12. The input device of claim 1 1 wherein said second limiter comprises a slot (1 12a) and a projection (1 12c) reaching into said slot (1 12a), wherein said slot (112a) is formed on said handle (103) and said projection (1 12c) on said frame (102) or wherein said slot (1 12a) is formed on said frame (102) and said projection (1 12c) on said handle (103).

13. The input device of any of the preceding claims, wherein said handle (103) comprises a first handle member (103a, 103c) and a second handle member (103e), with said first handle member (103a, 103c) being rotatable in respect to said second handle member (103e) about an axis perpendicular to said membrane (101), wherein said second handle member (103e) is connected to said membrane (101).

14. The input device of claim 13 further comprising a potentiometer arranged between said first handle member (103a, 103c) and said frame (102), wherein a resistance of said potentiometer varies with a rotation of said first handle member (103a, 103c).

15. The input device of any of the preceding claims comprising at least a top (1 11) and a bottom (108b, 108d) actuating electrode arranged on opposite sides of said membrane (101) and

a voltage generator to (144) applying an AC and/or DC voltage across said top and bottom electrodes (111, 108b, 108d).

16. The input device of any of the preceding claims comprising a current or voltage source (146), in particular a constant voltage source, connected at a first and a second location (1 18a, 1 18b) to said sensing electrode (108), and

at least one voltage sensor (148, 149) connected to a third and fourth location (1 18c, 1 18d; 1 18e, 1 18f) of said sensing electrode (108).

17. The input device of any of the preceding claims comprising a first electrode section (108a) and a second electrode section

(108b, 108e) arranged at different regions on or in said membrane (101),

a sensing circuit (140, 141) adapted to measure a parameter depending on a ratio of the resistances of said first and said second electrode sections (108a; 108b, 108e).

18. The input device of any of the preceding claims wherein the polymer membrane (101) has a thickness larger than 100 nm and/or smaller than 5 mm.

19. A use of the input device of any of the preceding claims for detecting a displacement of said handle (103) along said first direction (X).

20. A method for manufacturing the device of any of the claims 1 to 18 comprising the steps of

applying at least one electrode to a polymer film

stretching the polymer film, in particular by at least 20%, in at least said first direction (X), thereby forming said membrane (101), attaching the membrane (101) to said frame (102), and applying said handle (103) to the membrane (101).

21. The method of claim 20 wherein said electrode or electrodes is/are applied to said polymer film prior to stretching said polymer film.

Description:
Input device with elastic membrane

Field of the invention

The invention relates to an input device having an elastic membrane as well as to a use of said input device and a method for its manufacture. Such an input device can in particular be used as a joystick and/or in gaming applications.

Background of the invention

Input devices for converting mechanical displacements into electrical signals must meet restrictive cost and space requirements for applications such as mobile telephones, smartphones and other portable electronics.

Various types of input devices have been developed as conventional pointing devices. These coordinate input mechanisms include: a plurality of electromagnetic conversion devices that rely on the change of, among others, electrical resistance, electrical capacitance, magnetic flux and temperature. Other devices employ optical detection systems. However, any of those types of mechanisms are typically made of numerous parts which add to complexity, cost and size.

US 5689285 employs a pressure-sensitive resistive membrane, placed between two conductors. The annular direction and force of contact is determined through the change in resistance measured through the membrane.

US 2003/0151 103 employs a ring-shaped resistive membrane.

When the user presses on the button, the electrical circuit is closed and the electrical resistance is indicative of the direction of the pressure.

US 6344791 employs a deformable resistive membrane. Upon pressure, the circuit is closed and the electrical resistance determines the position of the pointer.

Object and summary of the invention

It is an object of the invention to propose an improved mechanical input device, in particular a joystick.

This object is achieved by the device of claim 1. Accordingly, the device comprises

a frame,

a flexible polymer membrane held in the frame, a compliant sensing electrode arranged on or in said membrane, and a handle mounted to said frame and connected to said membrane.

The handle is displaceable at least along a first direction parallel to the membrane, wherein a displacement of the handle in said first direction causes a deformation of said sensing electrode.

The device is configured such that, when the handle is moved in the first direction, the polymer membrane is deformed. As a consequence, the resistance and/or area of the sensing electrode(s) changes. This change can be measured and converted into an electrical signal, which can e.g. be used as an input signal for controlling the motion of a pointer or a figure on a screen.

In one advantageous embodiment, the device comprises a resistance sensing circuit connected to the sensing electrode for measuring the resistance of the same and for thereby generating a signal or value indicative of the handle position. Typically, the resistance increases when the section of the membrane containing the sensing electrode is distended.

In another advantageous embodiment, the device comprises at least a top and a bottom sensing electrode arranged on opposite sides of the membrane as well as a capacitance sensing circuit connected to said top and bottom sensing electrodes. The capacitance sensing circuit measures the capacitance between the two sensing electrodes and thus generates a signal or value indicative of the handle position. Typically, the capacitance increases when the section of the membrane containing the sensing electrodes is distended because the area of the sensing electrodes increases and their distance decreases.

Advantageously, when the handle is released, i.e. in the absence of an external force applied to the handle, the membrane moves the handle to a zero position. Upon application of the external force, the handle is displaced from the zero position against a resetting force generated by the membrane. In other words, the handle is self-centered by the restoring force of the polymer membrane.

Advantageously, even when the handle is in its zero position, the membrane is elastically extended, in particular along the first direction. Thus, when the handle is moved along the first direction, the membrane remains taught everywhere, and buckling is avoided. Advantageously, the extension is by at least 100% in length.

In another advantageous embodiment, the handle is displaceable in a third direction perpendicular to the membrane. In order to detect such a displacement, the device further comprises:

a first contact electrode mounted to the membrane, a second contact electrode mounted to the frame, and

a gap between said first and second contact electrodes.

A sufficient displacement of said handle along said third direction elastically deforms the membrane for closing said gap. Hence, when the handle is pushed down in the third direction, the contact electrodes touch each other, resulting in a measurable resistance change. This resistance change can be interpreted as a selection action.

In another advantageous embodiment, the device comprises at least a top and a bottom elastic actuating electrode arranged on opposite sides of the membrane as well as an AC voltage generator connected to the actuating electrodes for applying an AC voltage over the actuating electrodes. The actuating electrodes can be the same electrodes as the sensing electrodes, or separate electrodes. When the AC voltage is applied between the actuating electrodes, electrostatic forces cause a reduction of the distance between them. This results in deformation of the membrane and thereby in a lateral displacement of the handle attached to the membrane. This displacement can be sensed by the operator touching the handle, as a feedback signal. Since the planar elongation of the polymer membrane depends on the voltage difference applied between the electrodes, the displacement of the handle can easily be controlled.

The device can thus be used as input device for motion control and feedback device at the same time.

Advantageously, the polymer membrane has a thickness larger than 100 ran and/or smaller than 5 mm. A thickness below 100 nm makes the device difficult to manufacture, while a thickness above 5 mm requires a large voltage to be applied to the electrodes for the feedback function and a large force external mechanical displacement.

In an advantageous embodiment, the polymer membrane is made of polymers (e.g. PDMS Sylgard 186 by Dow Corning or Optical Gel OG-1001 by Lit- way) or acrylic dielectric elastomers. Such materials allow a substantial deformation so that the handle can be displaced by a large distance.

An embodiment of a device according to the present invention may be obtained by a procedure comprising the following steps:

applying the electrode(s) to the polymer membrane, e.g. by printing, stretching a polymer film, advantageously by at least 20%, e.g. 100 %, in x- and y-direction

attaching the membrane to said frame; and

applying said handle to the membrane. The order of the above steps is advantageously as indicated, but it may also be changed. For example, the electrode(s) may be applied after stretching the membrane or after applying the membrane to the frame. However, advantageously, the electrodes should be stretched together with the membrane, i.e. the electrodes should be applied to the polymer film prior to stretching the same.

Brief Description of the Drawings

The invention will be better understood and objects other than those set forth above will become apparent when consideration is given to the following detailed description thereof. Such description makes reference to the annexed drawings, wherein:

Fig. 1 is a sectional view of a first embodiment of a device using resistive measurements,

Fig. 2 shows the device of Fig. 1 with the handle moved to one side along direction X,

Fig. 3 shows the device of Fig. 1 with the handle moved to the opposite side of direction X,

Fig. 4 is a top view of the device of Fig. 1,

Fig. 5 is the device of Fig. 4 with its handle displaced along Y Fig. 6 is the device of Fig. 4 with its handle displaced opposite to Y, Fig. 7 is a second embodiment of the device using capacitive measurement,

Fig. 8 is a top view of the device of Fig. 7,

Fig. 9 is a sectional view of a third embodiment having a limiter for vertical displacement,

Fig. 10 is a sectional view of a fourth embodiment having a limiter for vertical displacement,

Fig. 1 1 is a sectional view of a fifth embodiment designed to detect a vertical handle motion,

Fig. 12 is the device of Fig. 1 1 with depressed handle,

Fig. 13 is a top view of the device of Fig. 11 ,

Fig. 14 is a sectional view of a sixth embodiment designed to detect a vertical handle motion,

Fig. 15 is the device of Fig. 14 with depressed handle, Fig. 16 is a sectional view of a seventh embodiment designed to detect a vertical handle motion,

Fig. 17 is a sectional view of an eighth embodiment of the device with mechanical feedback,

Fig. 18 is a top view of the device of Fig. 17,

Fig. 19 illustrates the position of the handle without applied voltage, Fig. 20 illustrates the position of the handle with applied voltage, Fig. 21 is a top view of a ninth embodiment having a reference electrode,

Fig. 22 is a top view of a tenth embodiment of the device having a single electrode,

Fig. 23 is a top view of the device of Fig. 22,

Fig. 24 is a variant of the device of Fig. 23,

Fig. 25 is an eleventh embodiment of the device with rotating handle,

Fig. 26 is a top view of the device of Fig. 25 with the handle in a first rotary position,

Fig. 27 is a top view of the device of Fig. 25 with the handle in a second rotary position,

Fig. 28 is an embodiment of a resistance sensing circuit to be used in the present device, and

Fig. 29 is an embodiment of a capacitance sensing circuit to be used in the present device.

Any top views represent the frame, membrane and handle in semi- transparent manner and show the bottom electrodes of the membrane only, with the exception of the top views of Figs. 26 and 27, which show the top electrodes only.

Detailed description of embodiments

Definitions:

The term "flexible polymer membrane" designates a flexible material body that has a thickness much smaller than its width and length, and that can be reversibly and elastically extended, along a direction perpendicular to its width, by at least 10% without being damaged.

The term "rigid" is used to describe a material that is substantially more rigid than the flexible polymer membrane.

The term "parallel to the membrane" is defined as follows: - if the membrane lies within a single plane, the term designates a direction parallel to said plane;

- if the membrane does not lie within a single plane, the term designates a direction parallel to a local tangential plane of the membrane at a location where the handle is connected to the membrane.

The terms "axial" and "perpendicular to the membrane" designate a direction perpendicular to all directions that are parallel to the membrane.

The term "lateral" is used to designate a direction perpendicular to the axial direction, i.e. a direction parallel to the membrane.

The term "flexible electrode" or, equivalently, "compliant electrode" for an electrode on or in the membrane designates an electrode that can be re- versibly and elastically extended together with the membrane by at least 20% without being damaged.

"Top" and "bottom" designate a direction where the apex of the handle is directed towards the top of the device and the membrane is below the handle. Any terms relating to a vertical reference system, such as "up", "down", "above", "below" etc. are to be interpreted in this sense.

Introduction:

The embodiments shown in the following exploit one or both of the following effects:

1. Position measurements are carried out using the fact that stretching a compliant electrode on a membrane changes its area and resistance. The change in resistance can be measured by means of a resistance sensing circuit. The change in area can be measured using a capacitance sensing circuit.

2. Force feedback is provided using displacements due to Maxwell stress induced deformation. This phenomenon relates to the deformation of a polymer material sandwiched between two compliant electrodes. When a voltage is applied between said electrodes, the electrostatic forces resulting from the free charges squeeze and stretch the polymer.

The present invention can be implemented in a variety of forms, e.g. as joystick. In the following, we describe some of these applications and various embodiments of the device.

First embodiment:

One possible embodiment of the present invention is a self- centering joystick as shown in Figs. 1 - 6. This embodiment comprises a polymer membrane 101 held in a rigid frame 102. In the embodiment shown, membrane 101 and frame 102 are rotationally symmetric about an axis A extending perpendicularly to membrane 101. A handle 103 is mounted in frame 102 and connected to membrane 101.

Frame 102 forms an upper lid 102a extending parallel to membrane 101 and having a central opening 102b. The top side (i.e. the side facing away from membrane 101) of lid 102a forms a flat support surface 102c.

Handle 103 can e.g. directly form a button operated by a user, or it may be connected to a rod or stick for easier manipulation. It has a head section 103a with a flat bottom or sliding surface 103b resting against support surface 102c. A shaft section 103c of handle 103 extends from head section 103b through opening 102b and is anchored in membrane 101, e.g. by welding or gluing.

Handle 103 is of a rigid material and displaceable along a first direction X parallel to membrane 101 as well as a second direction Y parallel to membrane 101 and perpendicular to first direction X (see Fig. 4). In fact, in the present embodiment, handle 103 is displaceable in any direction within the plane spanned by X and Y, with sliding surface 103b sliding against support surface 102c. It must be noted, though, that the principles of the present invention can also be used for a device whose handle is displaceable in a single direction only.

Membrane 101 comprises a section 101a, which is suspended within frame 102, with handle 103 being connected to the suspended section 101a. Membrane 101 is suspended in frame 102 in elastically extended state such that it remains stretched for any position of handle 103.

Sensing electrodes 108a and 108b are applied to the surface of or embedded within membrane 101. The electrodes are arranged at least partially in or on suspended section 101a of membrane 101. The geometries of the electrodes can be round, square, lines or any other appropriate form. In the first embodiment, they are substantially U-shaped with a middle section extending into suspended section 101a of membrane 101 and end sections being connected to metal pads 105. The metal pads 105 are arranged at the top side of a foot section 104 of frame 102. Vias 106 extend from the metal pads 105 to flip-chip contacts 107a at the bottom of foot section 104. Further flip-chip contacts 107b may be provided at the bottom of foot section 104 for mounting purposes or for contacting other parts of the device, as will be illustrated in later examples.

Without the application of an external force, membrane 101 will assume its minimum energy state as shown in Figs. 1 and 4, where handle 103 is in the centre of the device, in its "zero position". When an external force in the X-Y-plane is applied to handle 103, handle 103 is displaced from its zero position against a resetting force of membrane 101. This will cause membrane 101 to be deformed, thereby either stretching or compressing the sensing electrodes 108a, 108b. In Fig. 5 and 6, this is illustrated for a displacement along the direction Y, where electrode 108b is either stretched (Fig. 5) or compressed (Fig. 6). Similarly, Figs. 2 and 3 illustrate a displacement of along and opposite to direction X.

The compression or extension of a sensing electrode 108a, 108b causes its resistance to change. This change can be measured by means of a resistance sensing circuit. Such a circuit, which can be used with any of the embodiments shown herein, is illustrated in Fig. 28, where the electrode 108a or 108b to be sensed is shown as unknown resistor Rx. Resistor Rx is in series to a reference resistor Rref in a voltage divider, and the two resistors are arranged between ground and a DC reference voltage. Reference resistor Rref can be a conventional, fixed resistor, or it may be formed by a reference electrode on membrane 101, as further described below.

The voltage between the two resistors in respect to ground is processed as a measure of the position of handle 103, e.g. by amplification in an amplifier 140 and analog-to-digital conversion in an ADC 141.

It will be understood that the resistance sensing circuit of Fig. 28 is but one of numerous circuits that can be used for deriving a digital or analog signal indicative of the resistance of the sensing electrodes.

In the embodiment of Figs. 1 - 6, lid 102a forms a limiter, subsequently called the "first limiter", restricting the displacement of handle 103 a along directions X and or Y. Upon a maximum displacement of handle 103 along X or Y, as shown in Figs. 2 and 3, shaft section 103c abuts against lid 102a, thereby preventing further displacement. It must be noted that when the handle is lifted up, and four sensing electrodes are equally distributed on the membrane, the device can also be used to measure axial displacement. In this case, the resistance of all four sensing electrodes is increasing, due to the simultaneous elongation of the electrodes.

Second embodiment:

The second embodiment of the device shown in Figs. 7 and 8 substantially corresponds to the first embodiment, with the exception that it is designed to use a capacitive measurement for determining the position of handle 103.

For this purpose, membrane 101 is equipped with at least one top electrode 1 1 1 and at least one bottom electrode 108a - 108d, both of which are acting as sensing electrodes. The top and bottom electrodes are arranged on opposite sides of the membrane, and their mutual electrical capacitance depends on their size and dis- tance. As mentioned above, both size and distance change when membrane 101 is stretched or compressed due to a movement of handle 103, i.e. the capacitance is a measure of the position of handle 103.

As can be seen in Fig. 8, which illustrates the positions of the bottom electrodes 108a— 108d, there are four such electrodes arranged at the periphery of the four quadrants of membrane 101. At least two bottom electrodes (or, more generally, at least two capacitors formed by the sensing electrodes) are required if handle 103 has two degrees of freedom, and at least one bottom electrode or capacitor is required if handle 103 has one degree of freedom. Providing two bottom electrodes or capacitors per degree of freedom allows to provide more accurate measurements, e.g. by differentially processing their capacitances.

In the embodiment of Fig. 7, top electrode 1 11 is a single electrode covering the whole membrane 101. Such a simple electrode is easy to manufacture and provides electrical shielding for the components below it. Alternatively, top electrode 1 11 can consist of several separate segments, with each segment e.g. coinciding with a single bottom electrode 108a - d.

A capacitance sensing circuit is connected to the device for measuring the capacitance Cx formed by a top and a bottom electrode. An embodiment for such a circuit is shown in Fig. 29. Similar to the circuit of Fig. 28, capacitor Cx is in series to a reference capacitor Cref in a voltage divider, and the two capacitors are arranged between ground and an AC reference voltage Vref. Reference capacitor Cref can be a conventional, fixed capacitor, or it may be formed by a reference capacitor on membrane 101. In particular, in the embodiment of Fig. 8, it may be the capacitor formed by the sensing electrodes diagonally opposite to the sensing electrodes forming capacitor Cx. For example, if capacitor Cx is formed by bottom electrode 108a and top electrode 1 1 1 , capacitor Cref may be formed by bottom electrode 108b and top electrode 1 1 1. This design has the advantage that temperature and material drift effects affect both Cx and Cref in similar manner, while a displacement of handle 103 affects Cx and Cref in opposite manner, thereby maximizing the signal to drift/noise ratio.

In the circuit of Fig. 29, the voltage over capacitor Cx is processed as a measure of the position of handle 103, e.g. by amplification in an amplifier 140, low pass filtering in a low pass filter 142 and analog-to-digital conversion in a ADC 141.

Third embodiment: The third embodiment, shown in Fig. 9, substantially corresponds to the first embodiment of Figs 1 - 6, but it comprises a limiter, in the following called the "second limiter", preventing a displacement of handle 103 into a third direction Z perpendicular to membrane 101.

In the embodiment of Fig. 9, the second limiter comprises

- A slot 112a formed on handle 103 between the bottom side of head section 103a and a rigid plate 112b. Rigid plate 112b is mounted to shaft section 103c and extends parallel to membrane 101,

- A projection 1 12c formed on frame 102, extending parallel to membrane 101 and reaching into recess 1 12a. Projection 1 12c is formed by lid 102a of frame 102.

Slot 1 12a and projection 1 12c interlock in direction Z, thereby preventing a movement of handle 103 along direction Z, while allowing for a movement of handle 103 in directions X and/or Y.

Fourth embodiment:

The fourth embodiment, shown in Fig. 10, substantially corresponds to the third embodiment of Fig. 9, but has a slightly modified design of the second limiter. In this embodiment, the second limiter comprises:

- A slot 1 12a formed on frame 102 between lid 102a and a bracket plate 1 12d. Bracket plate 1 12d is mounted to the top of lid 102a and comprises a section extending parallel to membrane 101.

- A projection 1 12c formed on handle 103, extending parallel to membrane 101 and reaching into recess 1 12a. Projection 1 12c is formed by a plate mounted to the periphery of head section 103 a of handle 103.

Again, slot 1 12a and projection 1 12c interlock in direction Z, thereby preventing a movement of handle 103 along direction Z, while allowing for a movement of handle 103 in directions X and/or Y.

Fifth embodiment:

The fifth embodiment is shown in Figs. 1 1 - 13. In this embodiment, handle 103 is displaceable along third direction Z.

Advantageously, a displacement of handle 103 occurs under elastic deformation of a spring member, thus that handle 103 can be pressed down under deformation of the spring member and returns to its original position when the pressure is released. In the embodiment of Figs. 1 1 - 13, the spring member is formed by lid 102a of frame 102, which bends downwards, as shown in Fig. 12, when handle 103 is pushed down.

To detect a depression of handle 103, a first contact electrode 1 13a is mounted to the bottom side of membrane 101 and a second contact electrode 113b is mounted to the top side of a bottom section 104a of frame 102. In the relaxed state of the device (i.e. when handle 103 is not pushed down), the first and second contact electrodes 1 13a, 1 13b are at a distance from each other, i.e. a gap 1 13c is formed between them (see Fig. 1 1). Upon sufficient displacement of handle 103 along direction Z, membrane 101 is deformed such that gap 1 13c is narrowed and ultimately closed when the contact electrodes 1 13a, 1 13b come into contact with each other. Hence by measuring the capacitance Cx between the electrodes 113a and 1 13b, a depression of handle 103 can be detected and quantified. Additionally, by applying a voltage over the contact electrodes 1 13a, 1 13b and monitoring the current, the closing of the gap 1 13c can be detected. In the same manner, it can be detected if (and how far) the user lifts handle 103 because gap 1 13c expands and the capacitance Cx between the electrodes 113a, 113b decreases.

Sixth embodiment:

The sixth embodiment, shown in Figs. 14 and 15, corresponds to the fifth embodiment of Figs. 1 1 - 13, with a different design of the spring member that is deformed when pressing down handle 103. In this embodiment, the spring member is formed by a rubber elastic element 102d arranged between lid 102a of frame 102 and membrane 101. When pressing handle 103 down, rubber elastic element 102d of frame 102 is compressed, as shown in Fig. 15. When handle 103 is released, rubber elastic element 102d expands and returns to the position as shown in Fig. 14.

Again, when pressing handle 103 down, gap 1 13c is closed and the contact electrodes 113a, 1 13b touch.

Seventh embodiment:

The seventh embodiment, shown in Fig 16, corresponds to the fifth embodiment of Figs. 1 1 - 13, again with a different design of the spring member that is deformed when pressing down handle 103. In this embodiment, the spring member is formed by an elastic collar 103d of handle 103. Elastic collar 103d is arranged below head section 103a of handle 103 around shaft section 103c. At its radially inner end, it is connected to head section 103a or shaft section 103c, while its radially outer end is elastically displaceable along direction Z and rests against lid 102a of frame 102. When handle 103 is pushed down, elastic collar 103d is deformed thus that gap 1 13c can be closed. When handle 103 is released, elastic collar 103d returns to its configuration shown in Fig. 16.

Eighth embodiment:

The eighth embodiment, shown in Figs. 17 - 20, substantially corresponds to the fifth embodiment of Figs. 11 - 13, with two exceptions:

- an elastic limiter section is provided for elastically restricting a motion of handle 103 along directions X and/or Y and

- it is adapted to provide sensory feedback to the user.

As mentioned in context with the first embodiment, lid 102a forms a "first limiter" for restricting the displacement of handle 103 along directions X and/or Y. In the embodiment of Figs. 17 - 20, the first limiter is not formed by lid 102a itself, but by an elastic limiter section 102e, which is of a softer material than lid 102a and frame 102, thereby cushioning the limiter effect on handle 103. Advantageously, and as shown in Fig. 17, elastic limiter section 102e extends annularly around opening 102b.

For providing sensory feedback to the user, at least one top actuating electrode 1 1 1 is applied to the top side of membrane 101 , and at least one bottom actuating electrode 108b, 108d is applied to the bottom side of membrane 101.

Furthermore, the device comprises an AC and/or DC voltage generator 144 connected to the top and bottom actuating electrodes in order to apply an voltage across them. The effect of actuating such a voltage is illustrated in Figs. 19 and 20. When no voltage is applied, as shown in Fig. 19, membrane 101 is unde- formed and handle 103 rests in the center of the device. When a non-zero voltage is applied, e.g. between bottom electrode 108d and top electrode 1 1 1, as shown Fig. 20, membrane 101 between them is compressed, which causes it to laterally expand, thereby moving handle 103 away from the center of the device.

Hence, the application of an AC voltage to the actuating electrodes causes handle 103 to vibrate.

Voltage generator 144 can generate a continuously varying voltage, individual voltage pulses or any other voltage shape including DC voltage.

Ninth embodiment: As mentioned in respect to the first embodiment and to Fig. 28 above, the resistance of the sensing electrodes (if a resistive measurement is used) is advantageously measured in respect to a reference resistor Rref.

Since the resistance of the sensing electrodes depends, to some degree, on temperature, other environmental parameters (such as humidity) or aging effects, it is desirable if the reference resistor Rref is itself formed by an electrode arranged on membrane 108e.

An embodiment of such a device is shown in Fig. 21, where membrane 101 comprises an extended section 101a extending beyond the clamp formed by frame 102, thus that extended section 101a is not deformed when moving handle 103. A reference electrode 108e is arranged on extended section 101a. It is advantageously made in the same manufacturing step as the sensing electrodes 108a, 108c and is therefore of the same material and has the same thickness.

The input voltage U to amplifier 140 of the circuit of Fig. 28 is given by

U = Vref / ( (Rref/Rx) + 1)

Hence, the circuit of Fig. 28 generates a signal depending on the ratio between Rref and Rx. In other words, the resistance sensing circuit measures the resistance Rx of the sensing electrode in respect to the resistance Rref of the reference electrode, and any effect that affects both resistances in the (proportionally) same manner does not have any influence on the output of the resistance sensing circuit.

In the embodiment of Fig. 21 , the reference electrode 108e is arranged in a section of membrane 101 that does not deform when handle 103 is displaced. Alternatively, the reference electrode may also be on the part of membrane 101 that deforms upon a displacement of handle 103, as long as it deforms differently from the sensing electrode. In particular, when using an electrode design as shown in Fig. 13, two electrodes opposite each other can be used as reference resistance Rref and sensing resistance Rx. For example, electrode 108a can be used as sensing resistance Rx and electrode 108b can be used as reference resistance Rref. Since a displacement of handle 103 along X changes the resistances of the electrodes 108a, 108b in opposite directions, an even higher sensitivity results than with the design of Fig. 21. On the other hand, when displacing handle 103 along Y, the electrodes 108a, 108b vary in the same manner, and therefore no change of signal is observed at the output of amplifier 140.

In more general terms, the device advantageously comprises - a first electrode section (such as sensing electrode 108a of Fig. 21 or 13) and a second electrode section (such as electrode 108e of Fig. 21 or 108b of Fig. 13) arranged at different regions on or in the membrane, and

- a sensing circuit (such as the circuit of Fig. 28) adapted to measure a parameter (such as voltage U above) depending on a ratio of the resistances of the first and said second electrode sections.

Tenth embodiment:

The tenth embodiment, shown in Figs. 22, 23, has a mechanical design equivalent to the first embodiment, but differs in the layout of the sensing elec- trode(s). Namely, the sensing electrode consists of a single electrode 108 arranged to the top or bottom side of membrane 101. Along its circumference, it has current contact points at first and second locations 1 18a, 1 18b, and voltage contact points at third and forth locations 1 18c, 1 18d. A current or voltage source 146, in particular a constant voltage source generating a constant voltage, is connected to the first and second locations, thereby inducing a current through sensing electrode 108, which in turn generates a voltage at locations 1 18c, 1 18d. The device further comprises a voltage sensor 148 connected to the locations 1 18c, 1 18d and measuring the voltage between them.

Measurement methods of this type are known as "van der Pauw" methods and are widely to measure Hall coefficients. As can be shown, when the resistance distribution within electrode 108 changes in response to a displacement of handle 103, the voltage over the locations 1 18c, 1 18d changes as well.

One advantage of this method is, similar to the ninth embodiment, that any environmental or aging effects proportionally affecting the resistance of electrode 108 do not vary the output signal if a constant voltage source is used.

Another advantage of this method is the fact that electrode 108 does not have to be structured.

Eleventh embodiment:

The device according to the tenth embodiment measures a single value only, i.e. it is suited for measuring a one-dimensional displacement of handle 103. In order to measure a two-dimensional displacement, a design as shown in Fig. 24 can be used. Here, two voltage sensors 148, 149 are provided, and they are connected to two "third locations" 1 18c, 1 18e as well as two "fourth locations" 1 18d, 1 18f of electrode 108. As can be shown, the voltages Ul , U2 measured by the voltage sensors 148, 149 depend differently on the coordinates x, y of handle 103 in the X-Y- plane and it is possible to determine these coordinates x, y from the voltages Ul, U2. As suitable relation can either be derived theoretically, e.g. from simulation calculations, or experimentally, using calibration measurements.

Twelfth embodiment:

The embodiment of Figs. 25 - 27 substantially shows two further possible features of the device:

- a rotational connection of handle 103 to membrane 101 and, optionally,

- means for measuring the rotation of handle 103.

In order to form a rotational connection of handle 103 and membrane 101, handle 103 comprises a first handle member formed by head section 103 a and shaft section 103c as well as a second handle member 103e. Second handle member 103e is connected to membrane 101 e.g. by gluing or welding. Shaft section 103c of first handle member 103a, 103c extends into a central opening 103f of second handle member 103e in such a manner that it can be rotated about axis A while a relative displacement along direction Z between first handle member 103a, 103c and second handle member 103e is prevented, e.g. by a snap-in connection 103g.

Providing a rotational connection between handle 103 and membrane 101 has the advantage that a rotation of head section 103a of the handle does not distort the membrane and therefore does not affect the signals measured by the sensing electrodes.

In addition, it may be desirable to measure the rotational position between first handle member 103a, 103c and frame 102. For this purpose, a potentiometer can be arranged between the first handle member 103a, 103c and frame 102, wherein the resistance of the potentiometer changes with the rotation of the first handle member 103a, 103c.

In the embodiment of Figs. 25 - 27, the potentiometer is formed by an accurate resistance strip 150 mounted to the top side of lid 102a and a sliding contact 151 in contact with resistance strip 150 and mounted to the bottom side of head section 103a. A first electric lead 152 extends through first handle member 103a, 103c to a rotational contact 153 between first handle member 103a, 103c and second handle member 103e. A second electric lead 154 is formed by an electrode on membrane 101 and leads from rotational contact 153 to a contact point at the periphery of the device. When first handle member 103a, 103c is rotated, sliding contact 151 moves along resistance strip 150, whereby the resistance of the potentiometer is varied, which can e.g. be measured by sensing circuitry of the type shown in Fig. 28.

Materials and manufacturing:

The electrodes 108, 108a, 108b, I l l on polymer membrane 101 should be compliant, i.e. they should be able to follow the deformations of polymer membrane 101 without being damaged. Advantageously, the electrodes are therefore manufactured from one of the following materials:

- Carbon nanotubes (see "Self-clearable carbon nanotube electrodes for improved performance of dielectric elastomer actuators", Proc. SPIE, Vol. 6927, 69270P (2008);)

- Carbon black (see "Low voltage, highly tunable diffraction grating based on dielectric elastomer actuators", Proc. SPIE, Vol. 6524, 6524 IN (2007);)

- Carbon grease / conducting greases

- Metal ions (Au, Cu, Cr,....) (see "Mechanical properties of elec- troactive polymer micro actuators with ion-implanted electrodes", Proc. SPIE, Vol. 6524, 652410 (2007);)

- Liquid metals (e.g. Galinstan)

- Metal flackes

- Metallic powders, in particular metallic nanoparticles (Gold, silver, copper)

- Conducting polymers (intrinsically conducting or composites) The electrodes may be deposited by means of any of the following techniques:

- Spraying

- Ion-implantation (see "Mechanical properties of electroactive polymer micro actuators with ion-implanted electrodes", Proc. SPIE, Vol. 6524, 652410 (2007);)

- PVD, CVD

- Evaporation

- Sputtering

- Photolithography

- Printing, in particular contact printing, inkjet printing, laser printing, and screen printing. - Field-guided self-assembly (see e.g. "Local surface charges direct the deposition of carbon nanotubes and fullerenes into nanoscale patterns", L. See- mann, A. Stemmer, and N. Naujoks, Nano Letters 7, 10, 3007-3012, 2007)

- Brushing

- Electrode plating

The material for the slider button can e.g. comprise or consist of: - PMMA

- Glass

- Plastic

- Polymer

- Metal

- Silicon

The material for polymer membrane 101 can e.g. comprise or consist of:

- Gels (Optical Gel OG-1001 by Liteway),

- Elastomers (TPE, LCE, Silicones e.g. PDMS Sylgard 186, Acrylics, Urethanes)

- Thermoplast (ABS, PA, PC, PMMA, PET, PE, PP, PS, PVC,...)

- Duroplast

As described above, an advantageous method for manufacturing the device can comprise the steps of:

- Manufacturing or providing a polymer film of any of the materials mentioned above.

- Applying the electrode(s) to the polymer film, using any of the techniques above.

- Stretching the polymer film and electrodes, advantageously by at least 20%, e.g. 100 %, in x- and y-direction, thereby forming the membrane.

- Attaching the membrane to frame 103, e.g. using welding, bonding, tapes or gluing techniques.

- Applying handle 103 to membrane 101.

Advantageously, a plurality of devices of this type can be manufactured in parallel, using a single polymer film and cutting the same after applying it to the frames.

Some applications: The device shown above can be used for detecting a displacement of handle 103 along first direction X. Optionally, and as shown, it can also be used for detecting any of the following:

- a displacement of handle 103 along second direction Y,

- a displacement of handle 103 along third direction Z,

- a rotation of handle 103 about its vertical axis.

The device can be used in a large variety of applications, such as:

- Input device with active feedback for gaming in hand-held devices

- Joystick for motion control

- Input device for gaming units

- Input device for machine control

- Input device for dimmer control

Notes:

The different aspects of the various embodiments shown above can be combined in arbitrary manner. For example, even though only the second embodiment is shown to use capacitive sensing, capacitive sensing can be used with any of the other embodiments as well.

As mentioned, handle 103 can be displaced, parallel to membrane 101, in a single direction only or in two directions. Advantageously, when a displacement in two directions is to be monitored, at least one first sensing electrode deformed upon displacement of handle 103 into first direction X is provided, and at least one second sensing electrode deformed upon displacement of handle 103 into second direction Y. Alternatively, a single sensing electrode can be used as shown in the embodiment of Fig. 24.

Since the three functions, namely displacement sensing, selection and active feedback can be integrated in one electrode coated polymer membrane, the device is of small size and low cost. Furthermore, the potentially soft materials guarantee a long life and high mechanical shock stability.

The various electrodes can have a single function only (e.g. as a sensing electrode, a contact electrode or an actuating electrode as described above), or they can combine several functions. For example, a single electrode can be used as sensing electrode and actuating electrode, e.g. in a time-shared manner, or as an actuating electrode and a contact electrode. The electrodes can be single or multilayered. The deformation of the film polymer depends on the material properties such as elastic modulus of the material used, the shape of the material, as well as the boundary conditions.

The shape of the frame, handle as well as of the polymer membrane and the electrodes can be adapted to the various applications. In particular, the electrodes, the film, the frame as well as the handle can be of any suitable shape and e.g. be triangular, rectangular, circular, linear or polygonal. The sensing electrodes can also have annulus shape.

The invention is not limited to the shapes of the polymer membrane as described above. Indeed, other shapes could be defined for achieving mechanical displacement sensing, selection functionality and active mechanical feedback.

In the embodiments described above, the compliant electrodes are arranged on a surface of the membrane. Alternatively, the electrodes can be embedded within the membrane, i.e. if the membrane is made from several polymer films laminated to each other with the electrodes between them.

While there are shown and described presently preferred embodiments of the invention, it is to be distinctly understood that the invention is not limited thereto but may be otherwise variously embodied and practiced within the scope of the following claims.