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Touchscreens are the hottest thing in user interfaces for everything from phones to laptops to tablet computers such as the iPad. So it’s no surprise that Canada’s Smart Technologies has acquired New Zealand touchscreen technology maker NextWindow.

The purchase price wasn’t disclosed. NextWindow makes the optical touch technology that is used in all-in-one computers, computer displays, and large-format touchscreens. It makes touch components that are used in computers and monitors sold by Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Medion, NEC, Samsung and Sony.

Calgary-based Smart Technologies makes interactive whiteboards that users can share to enhance learning in the education, business and government sectors. So the NextWindow deal will extend Smart Technologies’ reach into the broader consumer technology market. In that sense, the businesses are complementary, say Nancy Knowlton, chief executive of Smart Technologies, and Al Monro, chief executive of NextWindow.

The privately held companies plan to keep their operations and offices. NextWindow was founded in 2001 and has 120 employees, while Smart Technologies has more than 1,000 employees. Market researcher iSuppli forecasts the global market for touch screens will reach $6.4 billion by 2013, up from $3.4 billion in 2008.

Here’s a description of NextWindows’ technology from the company’s web site:

By using optical sensors at two corners of the screen, Optical Touch “sees” the touching object from two angles. The result is extreme accuracy, with no contact pressure required. No special coatings and films are needed—there’s nothing to scratch, wear out, or cloud the display image.  The screen can be sealed against dirt, dust, and moisture, ideal for heavily used kiosks in public areas.

Working together, two optical sensors track the movement of any object close to the surface by detecting the interruption of an infra-red light source. The light is emitted in a plane across the surface of the screen and can be either active (infra-red LED) or passive (special reflective surfaces).

At the heart of the system is a printed circuit controller board that receives signals from the optical sensors.  Its software then compensates for optical distortions and triangulates the position of the touching object with extreme accuracy.

Some of NextWindow’s products, such as the 1900 series, use low-profile optical sensors mounted on the surface of the glass. Other products use different configurations. In all models, the infrared light source and optical sensors are synchronized using a sophisticated algorithm that also eliminates the effect of ambient light, creating an extremely clear, accurate screen.


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