Touch Sensitive “Paint” Opens New Doors

A new system called Electrick (developed by Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh) uses conductive spray paint and electrodes to turn any surface into an electronic touch sensor.

Electric Field Tomography

The revolutionary new system was created by Created by CMU Ph.D. student Yang Zhang and works using a technique known as electric field tomography (EFT), which exploits the interaction of a high-frequency electric field with a conductive medium.

How Does It Work?

In short, a surface or object is coated with a spray-paint application of carbon conducting paint. N.B. whole, solid or pliable objects can also be cast / moulded from carbon-conductive material (a mixture of carbon fibre and conventional silicone).

The surface or object then has electrodes attached to the periphery, and a small current is then injected in. The field and direction of the current is rotated around so that it covers the whole surface or object with no blind-spots.

When a person touches or runs their finger along the flat / object surface, the exact location can be plotted by a computer / computerised gadget. This means that all areas of the surface can be made touch sensitive (as in a touch-screen for a tablet), and individual touches can then be used to e.g. launch specific applications or activate features (such as sound effects).

What Can It Be Used For?

As is usually the case with technological innovations, the real potential and multitude of possible applications are only realised later on and depend upon the needs of the user of the technology and the niches that have been spotted by businesses. Examples of possible applications identified by Electrick, which can be seen in their video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38h4-5FDdV4 include:

  • Making inexpensive flat touch-panels or touch sensitive 3D shapes by sticking conductive-coated surfaces to Velostat or by laminating it to thermoformable sheet.
  • Adding functionality to 3D printed objects and prototype objects to test them and improve their design.
  • Making a whole table surfaces touch-sensitive and able to e.g. launch computer programs and apps.
  • Making wall surfaces act as ‘dimmer-switch’-style controls for the wall / room lights.
  • Enabling the activation of guitar / musical instrument effects to linked to touching a single part of the instrument’s surface.
  • Adding sound effects to touch locations on e.g. toy figures, education / teaching aids.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This new system represents a real opportunity for businesses, particularly in manufacturing, to improve and augment existing products, create new and innovative products, and improve the R&D and testing processes while keeping costs down. This low-cost, relatively easy way to create touch surfaces on any scale could help to revolutionise services e.g. information delivery and aid the advancement of automation. The possibilities are potentially limitless and could provide countless business opportunities for those who can quickly identify an area within their own business or industry where use of the system could add value, reduce costs, simplify processes and save time, or provide greater convenience and value to customers / end-users.