A touch switch is a type of switch that only has to be touched by an object to operate. It is used in many lamps and wall switches that have a metal exterior as well as on public computer terminals. A touchscreen includes an array of touch switches on a display. A touch switch is the simplest kind of tactile sensor.
There are three types of switches called touch switches:
A capacitance switch needs only one electrode to function. The electrode can be placed behind a non-conductive panel such as wood, glass, or plastic. The switch works using body capacitance, a property of the human body that gives it great electrical characteristics. The lamp keeps charging and discharging its metal exterior to detect changes in capacitance. When a person touches it, it increases the capacitance and triggers the switch.
Capacitance switches are available commercially as integrated circuits from:
- Azoteq IQSProxSense: IQSProxSense range of capactive touch and proximity sensing devices.
- Analog Devices: Model AD7147 (12 channel).
- Atmel QTouch: QTouch series of semiconductors including the simple QT 1010/1/2 devices.
- Cypress Semiconductor CapSense: The CY8C21434 can be configured as an 8-channel capacitance sensor, as used in the Apple iPod
- Freescale Semiconductor: Model MPR083 and MPR084 can be configured as an 8-touch-pad sensor.
- Holtek Semiconductor BS Series: Holtek BSxxx series of device offers a huge range of fixed function touch switch ICs as well as MCUs with embedded touch key functions.
- Microchip mTouch: Model PIC16F707 (32 channel).
- Omron: Model B6TS04LT (4 channel) and B6TS08LT (8 channel).
- Panasonic Semiconductors : Panasonic Touch Key Microcomputers.
- Rapid Keypads: Model BSQ-XX2ML (6 - 32 channel) ICs communicate via USB, Serial, SPI, I2C and other custom communication protocols.
- touchSEMI: Model TSM12 (12 channel) and complete touch sensors and capacitance comparators line.
These devices can also be used as a short-range proximity sensor.
Resistance touch switch
A resistance switch needs two electrodes to be physically in contact with something electrically conductive (for example a finger) to operate. They work by lowering the resistance between two pieces of metal. It is thus much simpler in construction compared to the capacitance switch. Placing one or two fingers across the plates achieves a turn on or closed state. Removing the finger(s) from the metal pieces turns the device off.
One implementation of a resistance touch switch would be two Darlington-paired transistors where the base of the first transistor is connected to one of the electrodes.
Also, an N-Channel, enhancement-mode, metal oxide field effect transistor can be used. Its gate can be connected to one of the electrodes and the other electrode through a resistance to a positive voltage.
Piezo touch switch
Piezo touch switches are based on mechanical bending of piezo ceramic, typically constructed directly behind a surface. This solution enables touch interfaces with any kind of material. Another characteristic of piezo is that it can function as actuator as well. Current commercial solutions construct the piezo in such way that touching with approximately 1.5 N is enough, even for stiff materials like stainless steel.
Piezo touch switches are available commercially from:
- Aito BV (complete UX-Chip)
- Algra (modules)
- Barantec (switches, keypads, custom keyboards and panels)
-  Stern Engineering] (modules)
- HowStuffWorks.com answer to question: How do touch-sensitive lamps work? (Deprecated)
- New Electronics: That Special Touch (Deprecated)
- Datasheet and picture for a new illuminated Touch Switch
- Rapid prototype capacitive Touch Switch design service.
- Capacitive Touch Light Switch