I want to robotically touch an iPhone screen without any human intervention.

I've done some experiments but have not found a reliable solution. It seems even styluses that work through gloves still rely on the capacitive characteristics of the human body.

  • Carrot held by human works
  • Carrot held in plastic clamp doesn't
  • Pogo Stylus works held by human and held by human through clothes
  • Stylus does not work held in plastic clamp.
  • Stylus works held in plastic clamp attached to human through clothes via jump lead.
  • Stylus held in plastic clamp with jump lead dangling off seems to work most the time.

Is it possible to mimic the human element using capacitors and other components? What signal does the capacitive screen need to be triggered?


  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried probe connected to ground? \$\endgroup\$
    – Majenko
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 23:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate of Conducting plastic for capacitive touchscreens \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 0:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ The linked question doesn't really have any great answers, but it covers the exact same ground as this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 0:06
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Kellenjb - The linked question is asking about what to make the tip for such a stylus out of. Tom has found that the tip material isn't the only factor, it's also affected by connection to a human vs. plastic clamp. That's different enough that I don't feel the need to close this. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 1:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another thing you can use to test would be rolled up aluminium foil :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Shungun
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 14:58

5 Answers 5


I haven't actually done this, but it seems the problem is the objects you are using are too small and don't have enough ambient capacitance. A human touching something adds capacitive coupling to the environment. Think of the size and surface area difference between a carrot and a carrot+human.

You should be able to use something conductive that is covered by a thin insulating layer, then connect the conducive part to a conductive plate under the iPhone or to ground. In this case "conductive" only needs to be not a good insulator. As you found, even something like a carrot is conductive enough. Try connecting a ground clip to the other end of the carrot, or connect it to the chassis of your machine.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahah! Grounding made both the carrot and the stylus work. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom R
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 22:07

Basically, a capacitive touch sensor works by detecting the change in capacitance in a "capacitor" that consists of a sensor plate and "ground", where this ground could be your ground plane, or a large nearby conductive plate, or water, or something. The mechanism for capacitance being the ability to hold an electric field means that anything that changes this affinity for electric fields changes the capacitance.

Moisture in the carrot acts as a wire to the human. Conductive material in the Pogo stylus serves the same purpose.

You might want to read Atmel's QTAN0079: Buttons, Sliders and Wheels Touch Sensor Design Guide, which covers designing various types of touch sensors. It goes over the underlying technology. Atmel has several other touch sensor app notes.


Any grounded conductive object should work. We use metal slugs with robots all the time for testing.


I found that a few inches of a 5 mm wide strip of material cut from an anti-static bag will work. Walt Mosspuppet posted a video of a similar solution using a left-over metalized food bar wrapper.


Apparently a sausage works.


  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ The sausage was ground. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 22:43
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I had luck with a banana. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 1:28

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