Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have designed a new touch sensing technology dubbed Electrick. Using conductive spray paint, a few electrodes, and a computer system trained in the electric field tomography technique - almost anything can be turned into a touch sensing surface. Electrick can be applied to objects as diverse as "walls, furniture, steering wheels, toys and even Jell-O," claim the CMU researchers.
Touch screen technology is all around us now and popular in portable devices, kiosks, and in cars, for example. However, making touchscreens adds expense and weight to devices, especially as the screen size gets bigger. Furthermore, touchscreens are hardly ever of irregular shape, limited to rectangular panels or inserts.
"For the first time, we've been able to take a can of spray paint and put a touch screen on almost anything," said Chris Harrison, assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and head of the Future Interfaces Group at CMU. The Electrick technology easily sidesteps problems faced by touch screens which rely on computer vision, for example.
Conductive paint spraying is just one way to use Electrick. 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.
Have a look through the video above, and you can see Electrick applied to 3D printed prototypes, desks, guitars, steering wheels, a smartphone back cover, and more. Electric field tomography techniques behind the touch point positioning is explained. The researchers say it is accurate to about 1cm, which is enough for most 'big' applications - it also seems to offer fast in response in the demonstrations.