Back in 2002, one man envisioned an interactive high street where large format tablet-like touchscreens would allow customers to browse shops and interact with brands, at any time, day or night. The result was the visualplanet touchfoil. The touchfoil is an optically clear, thin film that is applied to the back of a sheet of glass, which is then placed in front of digital content, such as an LCD screen. The touchfoil enables the user to navigate the content displayed on the screen by simply touching the glass.
“One evening, I was standing on the high-street,” remembers Vernon Spencer, founder of visualplanet. “A shop I wanted to go into was closed and I remember thinking how useful it would be to find out information about their products there and then. That’s when it hit me: businesses shouldn’t be putting up barriers, they should be making it easier for customers to find out about their products and services regardless of the time. Large format interactive touchscreens – that work through retail windows – could make this possible.”
The power of touch
The visualplanet patented touchfoil uses a unique wire based touch sensing method. The touchfoil is constructed of two clear, micron-thin laminated plastic sheets with an embedded mega-thin grid of sensing wires that lead to an electronic controller. When the glass is touched the location is identified through the glass on the touchfoil’s wire grid and communicated via the controller to the computer to carry out the action on the screen – just like using a mouse.
A global network of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), integrators and distributors have integrated the touchfoil in a wide range of applications to add interactivity across key industries such as retail, transport and leisure.
“A great example of the benefits of our touchfoil technology is the creation of through-window interactive displays within retail environments,” adds Spencer. “This allows consumers to browse through a product range free-of-charge, to make a purchase, and choose a time to have the items delivered – all from the shop window. For the shop this is an excellent way to capture the user’s data and increase sales, maximising the potential of the bricks and mortar store.”
Taking on the world
visualplanet developed the product and business specifically to meet the demands of a global marketplace, and now over 98% of the touchfoils produced in Cambridge, UK, are sold overseas. In 2015 the company was even named “Best Exporter” in the GREAT Faces of British Business competition.
“Having grown so quickly and with customers in so many locations, we needed a logistics provider who could keep up with us and that we could trust,” says Mike Cole, Director, visualplanet. “That’s why we approached FedEx back in 2006.”
FedEx offers visualplanet a bespoke service that enables it to ship multiple touchfoils, regardless of the size, across the globe. “FedEx also helps us meet our clients’ needs by redirecting shipments en route if orders are urgent and needed on site immediately. FedEx always handles our largest touchfoils with care – the biggest so far being in excess of 13ft – and the Electronic Shipping Tools provided by FedEx streamline our service with automated labeling,” states Cole. “FedEx has always accommodated our short notice requirements, which has in turn strengthened our relationships with our customers.”
Back to the future
Now that interactivity is increasingly becoming a prominent aspect of everyday life, visualplanet has its sights set on continuing to drive the adoption of large format touch through developing key global partnerships in growing vertical markets.
“We regularly ship to over 85 countries worldwide, however our growth strategy will take us into new markets and opportunities,” says Cole. “Growth will be supported by our next generation touch sensor – the Single User touchfoil – which has been specifically engineered to address the requirements for interaction with self-service applications in robust solutions located in unattended public facing environments.” Cole continues.
The new Single User touchfoil aims to bridge the gap between the existing speed and accuracy of large format touchscreens and the high performance levels that customers have come to expect from small-format touch sensors, such as phones and tablets, by providing an accurate, high performance, zero-maintenance touch experience.
Cole comments: “As our business grows – and becomes increasingly globalised – we need to work with a logistics provider that understands the challenges and opportunities that come with this expansion. We are looking forward to working with FedEx to deliver our growth plans and to create a world of touch.”