Sep 20, 2015 | By Benedict

Researchers at Human Media Lab have developed resistive and capacitive input widgets for the creation of interactive 3D prints. The 3D-printed touch and pressure sensors were presented at the ‘Alternative Input and Output’ session of the INTERACT 2015 Conference (14-18 September) in Bamberg, Germany. INTERACT is one of the largest conferences in the field of human-computer interaction.

Human Media Lab, based at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, is one of Canada’s foremost multidisciplinary media laboratories. With facilities designed by Karim Rashid, HML can boast of inventions such as the ubiquitous eye input sensor, eye input for smartphones, Attentive User Interfaces (AUI), the first foldable paper computer, the first flexible smartphone, the first flexible Tablet PC, the first multitouch sphere, the first pseudo holographic 3D cylindrical telepresence display, and computer vision based metrics for digital signage.

At the INTERACT conference, Queen’s professor Roel Vertegaal and students Jesse Burstyn, Nicholas Fellion, and Paul Strohmeier, introduced PrintPut, a new method for integrating simple touch and pressure sensors directly into 3D printed objects. PrintPut is a 3D printing technique that involves embedding interactive widgets directly into printed objects, rather than adding extra components to the already-printed main structure of an object. PrintPut uses a conductive filament to offer an assortment of sensors that an industrial designer can easily incorporate into 3D designs, including buttons, pressure sensors, sliders, touchpads, and flex sensors.

The team of researchers at HML noticed a gap in the 3D printing market, seeing how existing touch solutions, even if flexible, cannot seamlessly wrap around many non-planar objects. Furthermore, they noted that using many individual sensors introduces wires that are difficult to manage and that therefore impede interaction. PrintPut, their innovative solution, addresses these concerns by seamlessly integrating interaction points within the existing surface geometry of the object and internally routing the wires to a common connection point.

The researchers created a series of scripts to help designers integrate sensors into complex 3D geometries. They implemented the process in Rhinoceros 3D, a CAD software package for industrial design. Their automation process operates within Grasshopper, a visual programming tool for algorithmic 3D modeling. To use PrintPut, designers start the process by creating a base model of their 3D shape in either Rhinoceros or other CAD software. Next, they bring their model into Rhinoceros and define the points and curves for interactive areas. The script takes this user input and constructs the flat geometry for the desired sensors. The sensor geometry is then projected onto the original model, such that it conforms smoothly to the surface. After this step, the script extrudes the geometry into the surface and subtracts it from the base model. The result is two interlocking 3D models: the conductive circuits and the base model with hollows for these created paths.

The critical component of PrintPut is a conductive ABS filament. The PrintPut team used a Maker Geeks Conductive ABS, which has a high resistance. PrintPut requires an ABS supported 3D printer with two extruders, such as a Makerbot 2X or Leapfrog Creatr. After a designer makes an object with sensor geometry, they import it into their 3D printer’s build manager and assign the base and conductive geometry to standard and conductive filaments, respectively. Once the object is 3D printed, sensor values can be easily read by connecting it to an Arduino or other microcontroller with alligator clips. For a lower profile, a designer can instead attach thin wires with conductive adhesives (e.g. copper tape or 3M Z-Axis conductive tape).

HML’s development of PrintPut is an exciting development for interactivity in 3D-printed objects. For further information on the project, the full paper of their findings can be found here. A video of the technology at work can be seen below.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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