Mitsubishi have been demonstrating a "3D Touch Panel" that can recognize both direct contact and finger proximity. Based on a mainstream 5.7-inch 640 x 480 capacitive touch panel, the new proximity tech can sense a finger up to 20mm from the screen surface as well as the speed at which it is moving. Mitsubishi envisage the system being used for mobile devices, with proximity used to control a mouse pointer or possibly bring up a context menu.
In the demonstration, on-screen photos increase in size as a finger approached them; in a mapping application, contextual icons appeared around a location point when the finger neared it. Two detection methods are used, with the panel switching between prioritizing sensitivity (to detect proximity) or resolution (when contact is made).
Mitsubishi claim their modifications will add minimal cost to the capacitive panel, but the company is quiet on specific applications or whether they will be licensing the technology to other manufacturers. What they have said is that "it will first be used for our products." Hands-up who'd like to see this mixing it up with the rumored Apple netbook.