This Conductive Spray Paint Can Turn Anything Into a Touchpad

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-12 08:33

It's going to take just a can of special spray paint and a few basic electronics to turn certain surfaces into touchscreens.

Just imagine interacting with steering wheels, countertops, the back of your hand, even walls and 3D-printed objects in an entirely new way. There's now an easy and relatively cheap way to turn even the most unexpected things into interactive objects.

This new technology is called “Electrick”, developed by a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. One would simply need to spray the conductive paint onto a particular surface, hook copper electrodes up to a computer, and voila! Any suitable surface can turn into a touchscreen.

Spray Paint Magic

The touchscreens that we use today are flat and rectangular glass surfaces, like the touchscreens of tablets or smartphones. Of course, that can get a little boring and more than a little limiting. Touchscreen technology seems to be the future, so it only makes sense to take it to the next level.

About two months ago, Google and a team of researchers at Saarland University developed temporary [electronic tattoos called SkinMarks](https://wowscience.io/2017/03/19/electronic-tattoos-futures-geek-chic/). These tattoos work a lot like touchscreen controls do, except they're on your skin instead of a screen.

Electrick works differently, though the same basic principles of use apply. Electrick can go on nearly any surface, in any shape or size. The creators of the conductive spray paint have used the technology to create a touch-sensitive steering wheel. It can detect whether a car is in self-driving mode or has a human driver. They have also used Electrick to create touch-activated dimmer switches on walls, as well as a touch-activated tremolo bar for an electric guitar.

The creators of the technology also claim that Electrick can replace buttons on remote controls and appliances. Instead of pressing down on a button to turn on the blender or oven, you would simply need to tap the spot that correlates to that command. A technique called electric field tomography is what allows the conductive paint to “sense” where the user's finger is.

Looking Forward

The technology can have a lot of applications. These include home appliances, self-driving cars, musical instruments, 3-D printed models, and perhaps even more. Versatility is definitely an advantage that Electrick has over the touchscreen technology of today.

Of course, the technology does have its limitations. For one thing, it would be difficult for the spray paint to stick to porous materials like wood, ceramics, and cement. While this may shorten the list of things that we can turn into a touchscreen, there are plenty of other options.

Another problem is that Electrick tends to be about a centimeter off when trying to detect where a fingertip is on a surface. The good news is that the spray paint is almost 100% capable of detecting a touch. The creators just need to find a way to improve the technology's ability to detect where exactly that touch is. When the product is ready to make its market debut, it's highly probable that we'll be looking at the birth of a new phase in touchscreen technology.

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