Turn Anything Into a Touch Sensor with Spray Paint

There is a reason why the word “intuitive” has and always been such a marketing buzz word for the last half decade. The prevalence of touch interfaces today allow us to access computers like never before.

In fact, it’s so universal today, that imagining the world where touch interfaces are integral to everyday life is no longer a far dream. That, my friends, is exactly what this new amazing tech is built for.

Everything is now a Touch Sensor

A team of researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania had been dabbling with the possibilities of their newly developed spray paint + sensor combo. Basically, the technology involves spraying any surface with a black conductive paint, installing sensors around its area afterward. After a few connections and setups, voila! Instant touch sensor interface.

The trick to making any surface into a touch sensor with this method is the use of a technique called electric field tomography. As explained by the video above, the setup is able to accurately determine the position of the touch medium (your finger) across the custom-made touch surface by calculating the voltage reduction on all sensors. The triangulated point is then translated as the surface touch location. As it is not reliant on light-based sensors to determine touch medium location, accuracy is far more pinpoint. It has a (relatively) high level of user control that is somewhat comparable to that of a dedicated flat capacitive touchscreen or pad.

In addition, the researchers have actually demonstrated that setup could be used for many other types of materials. This opens the possibility for fully three-dimensional touch interfaces, giving the option to assign very specific controls for certain very specific applications.

Touch Sensors are now Everywhere

Credit via Carnegie Mellon University

The initial goal of the research is to be able to apply touch interfacing on a very large scale without worrying about its traditional costs. Indeed, if all it takes is some paint and cheap copper sensors, then almost any kind of interface is possible so long as there are enough merits and benefits to apply it.

One very simple but nifty example shown by the video is the custom smartphone case that uses the paint + sensor combo. With the entire case as an extra touch sensor, you can simply assign additional fine tuning controls for any app a la PS Vita, or launch any app with a custom gesture or area assignment. If you want to be more grandiose, you can even spray paint an entire wall and connect it with sensors, to provide direct control of any appliance or outlet within your household. Its cheap application cost makes possibilities literally endless.

Now for the big question: when will we see it commercially available? Still quite a long way it would seem. As simple as the technology looks, there are still no official considerations for its commercialization. But with something this big out there, we suppose it’s not going to be long before tech bigwigs become very interested.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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