Electronic – Mutual capacitance sensor behaviour


In a typical mutual capacitance touch sensor when finger approaches sensor it draws electrical field in effect decreasing the capacitance of the sensor (which is described here and here, for example).

mutual capacitance

Now, I came across this sensor design and tried to work out the principle of how it's working.

Here, the receive signal (left) is separated with transmit signal (right) via ground (and is also surrounded by it) and instead of a finger, there is a conductor (insulated from GND using a rubber cup) moving in or out above the sensor.

My understanding is, that this sensor is (with respect to the above "usual" situation) normally closed (i.e. electric field lines flow to the GND strip in-between Rx and Tx pads) and when the object approaches these pads it diverts them and increases the mutual capacitance of the sensor.

sensor top+bottom
sensor top
sensor bottom

Is this reasoning correct?

Best Answer

Your reasoning is correct, the capacitance increases if the conductor gets closer to the PCB. The system could be modeled as two capacitors in series, the fringing effects of current/field lines above the conductive plate could most likely be ignored (depends on how close other objects like a finger get to the top conductive plate, or if there is an insulative separator above the plate). Fringing fields to ground would probably also be minimal if the plate is close to the PCB.

enter image description here

Anyway lets say the conductive plates have an area of 1cm^2 and the distance is 1cm (for easy maths sakes. I'll also neglect the electric permeability for this demonstration)

\$ C= \epsilon\frac{A}{d}= \frac{1}{1} = 1\$

Then lets say we depress the conductive plate, and change the unit distance between the PCB to 0.5 (so the plate is closer).

\$ C= \epsilon\frac{A}{d}= \frac{1}{0.5} = 2\$

So when the plate is closer, the capacitance is larger.

enter image description here

The change in the gap material could also affect the capacitance (by changing the electrical permeability as there would be less air in the gap). But the effects of the material would most likely be small when compared with the change in distance.

You could get some rough cut numbers of capacitance by finding the surface area of the conductors and the distance between the plate and the PCB.