Have you ever looked at an object or surface in your home—say, a wall, book or back of your phone—and wished it was a touchscreen? Well, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have the material to make your dreams come. Called Electrick, it uses a software and a spray can to turn your surfaces smart.
Electrick works by using an algorithm to read the press of your finger by sensing changes in the flow of electricity across the conductive surface. “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, head of the Future Interfaces Group (FIG) at Carnegie Mellon, which is behind the system.
Touchscreens like Electrick rely on something called the shunting effect—when a finger touches a touchpad, it shunts a small amount of electric current to ground. The trick of the Electrick is using is called electric field tomography, running small amounts of current sequentially through the electrodes in pairs and recognizing any voltage differences.
This means that the Electrick still struggles with accuracy, but as a project it still has a lot of potential. PhD students were able to make surfaces as large as a 4-by-8-foot sheet of drywall, as well as objects like a steering wheel, the surface of a guitar and a Jell-O mold of a brain into touchscreens.
The idea is ultimately to create an interactive back of a smartphone. Electrick aren’t the first one to try something like this, but considering how they researchers at a university as opposed to a sketchy Kickstarter, they show a little more promise, and a wealth of literally larger applications.
Image and video credit: Future Interfaces Group
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.