Spray paint developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University can turn irregular-shaped objects like steering wheels into touchscreen devices.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with a low-priced touch-sensing technology called Electrick that, they say, can do just that.
Zhang, Harrison and Gierad Laput, another HCII PhD student, used Electrick to add touch sensing to surfaces as large as a 4-by-8-foot sheet of drywall, as well as objects as varied as a steering wheel and the surface of a guitar.
Currently, touch controls are confined mostly to small, flat surfaces like smartphones or tablets. The tech has been used to create an interactive smartphone case, as well as a game controller that enables you to change where the buttons are based on what you're playing or your preferences.
There have been numerous attempts to expand the size of touch screens, but the technology has hitherto proved too expensive to scale to large surfaces, or irregular shapes. There's also the problem of electromagnetic interference from electronics like microwaves and lights occasionally affecting the touch-tracking data, he says.
While not as accurate as other touch input devices, Electrick is already capable of detecting the location of a finger's touch to one centimeter, sufficient for using any surface as a button, slider or other control.
They did this by using electric field tomography - sequentially running small amounts of current through the electrodes in pairs and noting. Similar functionalities can be applied to Play-doh, Jell-O and 3D-printed objects made out of conductive filaments.
The team said the spray was resistant to erosion, and can even be protected with a spray coating or sheeting.
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Zhang said Electrick is accessible to hobbyists and compatible with common manufacturing methods such as spray coating, vacuum forming, casting/molding and 3-D printing.
Zhang will show off the technology at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Denver. It is flexible as it can add touch sensing ability to otherwise non-conductive objects such as a wooden table or guitar body, but Electrick can be used even more simply as some construction materials conduct electricity natively, such as some bulk plastics or carbon-loaded films, like Desco's Velostat, and more.
Electrick can turn all kinds of objects, like this molded Jell-O brain, into touch pads.
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