Low-Cost Technology Turns Anything into a Touch Pad

'Electrick' uses conductive spray paint and electrodes to make objects touch-sensitive.

May 10, 2017 5:49 pm

A system developed by Carnegie Mellon researchers, called Electrick, transforms ordinary surfaces into touch-sensitive ones.

Using conductive spray paint and electrodes, the objects gain touch functionality with the help of software developed by the researchers.

The simple, cheap manner could redefine how consumers use touch sensitive technology, typically confined to screens, by turning low-tech objects, like toys or maps, into an engaging device.

Conductive spray paint—which costs $20 for a 4 oz can— is usually used on electronics to reduce electromagnetic interference.

Carnegie Mellon researchers turn static surfaces into touch-sensitive ones. (Yang Zhang, Gierad Laput, and Chris Harrison)

Researchers connected electrodes to a sensor board and the paint-coated object, creating a surface surrounded by an electrical field. When the object is touched, it disrupts the electrical field and those disruptions are picked up by the sensors, before being analyzed by the software.

According to Technology Review, the Electrick-enabled devices are 99 percent effective at sensing touch. The system can be made wireless easily because it already has a Bluetooth module—so it can work with smartphones too.

In a demo video (above), researchers use Electrick to detect gestures on a steering wheel and control the lights in a room by swiping up or down on a wall.

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