Imagine that by touching the armrest of your sofa, you switch the channel on the TV, or with the help of a stencil on the wall you can adjust the brightness of the light of the “smart” bulb. This, and many other similar functions, has now become possible thanks to the work of a research team from the Laboratory of Informatics and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Bristol and the University of Bath, UK.
The technology, called the “Sprayable User Interface”, consists of spraying layers of conductive copper ink and decorative elements onto any surface. These layers, connected to a specialized microcontroller, supply it with data, on the basis of which the microcontroller can determine the fact of touching them and issue the corresponding command to the upper level. This technology works with surfaces of any nature and any shape, it can be used even on the outer walls of buildings and any other elements of urban infrastructure.
“Unlike other existing methods, such as 3D printing, inkjet printing or applying additional flexible coatings, the spraying method is not limited by anything. And this is indicated by numerous graffiti, sometimes located in the most unimaginable and unexpected places,” the researchers write. “And the result of our work was the addition of these graffiti to digital user interface technologies, which will make it possible to give interactivity to any physical surface.”
The developed technology allows now to respond only to a full touch on the interactive surface. But in the future, by increasing the sensitivity and selectivity of signal receivers, the system will be able to respond to sliding touches with a finger (to increase or decrease the brightness of the light, sound volume, for example), and even hand movements without direct touching the sensors on the surface. In addition, feedback elements in the form of spraying onto certain areas of the luminous electroluminescent coating can easily be added to this interactive technology.
The only drawback is that to create interactive surface elements now requires a preliminary check of the applied conductive lines and the use of stencils for applying decorative elements. However, all this does not impose any serious restrictions and the design of the future interactive surface is limited only by the imagination of its creator.