Electronic – How to electromagnetic interference from a USB charger cause a capacitive touchscreen to malfunction


Electromagnetic interference from a USB charger can cause a touchscreen on a mobile device to malfunction, with symptoms such as reduced sensitivity or spurious touches. As an example, see http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1784773.

From an electrical standpoint, how can EMI from a USB charger cause a capacitive touchscreen to malfunction? I can understand how EMI can cause radio communications to fail, but I don't understand how it would cause a touchscreen to malfunction.

Best Answer

Touch screens have transmit (Tx) and receive (Rx) electrodes which are drawn in transparent indium tin oxide (ITO), forming a matrix of crossed traces with each Tx-Rx junction having a characteristic capacitance. The human finger is basically a ground that alters the mutual capacitance between the RX and TX electrodes. This network is very sensitive to changes in charge (i.e. capacitance changes).

Typical chargers use a flyback circuit topology. The interference waveform they generate is complex and varies considerably between chargers, depending on circuit details and output voltage control strategy. The interference amplitude varies considerably depending on how much design effort and unit cost the manufacturer has allocated to shielding in the switching transformer.

Typical EMI parameters making this interference hard to filter include:

  • Wave shape is complex, consisting of pulse-width modulation square wave followed by LC ringing
  • Frequency rates 40–150 kHz under nominal load, with pulse-frequency or skip-cycle operation dropping frequency to < 2 kHz when very lightly loaded
  • Voltage levels up to one half input peak voltage = Vrms / sqrt(2)

These interference voltages are coupled capacitively from sources that are both internal and external to the touchscreen device. These interference voltages cause charge movement within the touchscreen, which may be confused with the measured charge movement due to a finger touch on the screen.

This form of EMI has many coupling paths which can disrupt the TX/RX electrode capacitance measurements: internal (poor shielding in device), external parasitic (finger-device introduces closed ground loops, etc). Poorly designed chargers or poorly shielded devices (or both) can exhibit touch screen problems.