IT

We Can Now Turn Anything Into a Touch Screen with Spray Paint

We Can Now Turn Anything Into a Touch Screen with Spray Paint

While touch sensing is common on small, flat surfaces such as smartphone or tablet screens, researchers have now developed a technology to turn surfaces of a wide variety of shapes and sizes into touchpads using tools as simple as a can of spray paint. So far, it's been used on various test objects, including a 4 by 8 ft (1.2 by 2.4 m) drywall sheet, a steering wheel, toys, a guitar, Play-Doh, and a gelatin mold of a brain.

Electrick can have various applications, such as creating interactive walls or smartphone cases that could open an app based on how the user holds the phone or a gamepad that can change button positions and controls for specific users.

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We've grown accustomed to interacting with devices like smartphones and kiosks using touch. Larger versions are very expensive to build, and irregular ones are experimental and rely on complicated workarounds, like cameras and algorithms that are not very reliable and raise privacy issues. Some methods have relied on computer vision, which can be disrupted if a camera's view of a surface is blocked.

While a visually arresting invention, the spray is no gimmick - it means the touchscreen of any device needn't be flat (or, indeed, small) - if individuals were so minded, they would be able to transform anything into a giant touchscreen. By using a conductive paint or spray, Electrick (as the system's called) can identify different measures in electricity while you move your hand across the surface. Also, methods such as 3-D printing and casting/molding can be used to create touch sensors.

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In the video above, Electrick is being used on a guitar, auto steering wheel, and even paper cutouts of some app icons that act like digital shortcuts to a computer program. The researchers don't yet know how durable the technology is, even if their conductive paint were protected by another coating (Electrick can work this way, Zhang says). Electrically conductive layers of material are applied to objects. 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.

The researchers will present their study at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems this week in Denver, Colorado.

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