What is an Interactive Flat Panel and How Do They Work?

Interactive Flat Panels (IFPs), also know as “smart boards,” take two already effective tools and combine them together to make a uniquely useful device that can enhance your teaching or presenting. While physical whiteboards have strengths and weaknesses, and digital access has its own unique opportunities for content presentation, an Interactive Flat Panel strikes a great balance between these two options.

An Interactive Flat Panel or “smart board” uses Infrared or Capacitive touch sensors to allow touch input similar to the use of a whiteboard, while adding a screen and a connection to a digital environment that brings unique and useful options to teaching and presenting.

There’s more to the story around the software and the various capabilities of a smart board, and it’s worth understanding a little more about how they work to make the right decision when considering an IFP. Let’s cover the technology of a Interactive Flat Panels first, before diving into the unique advantages they offer.

How do IFPs Work?

To understand how an Interactive Flat Panel works, you’ll want to understand how the board physically works. After this, you may want to check out another of our articles on how to use a smart board as a TV, but for now let’s dive into the basics.

How IFPs Detect Touch

There are two ways that a smart board can detect input. The vast majority of Interactive Flat Panels use a method of input detection called infrared touch. This involves small infrared lights and cameras built into the frame. If you can picture the rectangular IFP surface in your mind, then imagine a layer of lights being emitted over the surface of the screen.

This invisible plane of light can’t be seen by us, but the cameras built into the frame are able to see them. The cameras, typically placed at the four corners of the board, watch the plane of infrared light. They detect whenever that layer of light is broken by a stylus or a finger. In that way, the board can detect when it’s touched, and also where it’s touched.

This infrared tech built into the frame is the most common way an IFP detects touch, but there are some boards that use a technology called capacitive touch. This is the same technology that your smartphone uses to sense touch. This works by using an electrical current to sense when the screen is touched. Capacitive touchscreens are generally more expensive to manufacture in IFP sizes, which is why the infrared technology is much more common. Capacitive touch is sometimes favored because it can produce a cleaner look than the infrared system, and requires less physical hardware, but the infrared technology has come a long way for a much lower cost. A good example of this progress is the Recordex Generation 4 SimplicityTouch, which sports the thinnest infrared sensor frame on the market.

The Advantages of Interactive Flat Panels

Now that you understand how Interactive Flat Panels work, you may be asking, what are the main advantages of an IFP device? How the unique design of a smart board allows you to go beyond a “normal” computer setup?

First, an Interactive Flat Panel is optimized for presenting and teaching, with the main feature of the large size allowing a full room to be able to see the screen. While this functionality could be achieved with a projector too, a smart board adds onto this large-screen format by allowing easy and fluid touch input. Allowing the user to write and present information in a more intuitive and personal way.

Projectors also typically require calibration, maintenance like bulb-changeouts, and other moving-part hardware failure over time (like fans and lens focusing gears). Not to mention routine cleaning. Compared to this, using an IFP is really seamless. Some models have no-touch calibration and are ready to go out of the box. Just a quick wipe-down to remove dust every once in a while is all the maintenance you need!

Past that, a smart board paired with the right programs allow a communication experience that combines the best of both digital and physical large-screen options. Software like Recordex’s XPress annotation program takes all the guesswork out of using an Interactive Flat Panel, with easy-to-use controls that are optimized for the needs of the classroom. In fact, XPress is bundled with Recordex’s SimplicityTouch IFPs, because it’s such an essential tool for getting the most out of the board.

That’s why, at Recordex, we’ve taken the time to optimize both the hardware and software of our Interactive Flat Panels. With a unit like the SimplicityTouch IFP, paired with XPress annotation, all of the guesswork is taken out from using and managing an Interactive Flat Panel.