May 10, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed Electrick, a new sensing technology that brings touch input to a huge range of surfaces and objects using electric field tomography. Users can use Electrick to add touch sensors to 3D printed objects.

Researchers used their Electrick technique to turn a static 3D printed part into touch-sensitive drum kit

Touch input technology is pretty ubiquitous these days: you’ll find touch sensors on things like mobile phone screens, tablets, and ticket machines. But this kind of sensing technology has its limits—specifically, in terms of the scale and shape of the objects becoming sensor-equipped.

Because electric touch sensing technology is expensive to develop and produce, you’re unlikely to find examples of it on objects much larger than a computer screen. You could theoretically make an entire wall in your apartment touch-sensitive using the same tech used in smartphones, but it would cost a fortune.

You’re also unlikely to find such technology incorporated into anything with a strange shape: smartphones are relatively easy to make touch-responsive, since they are flat. But try adding a touch sensor to the end of a hammer or corkscrew, and you’ll soon run into trouble.

Chris Harrison, Gierad Laput, and Yang Zhang, three researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, recognized these limits of sensing technology, but decided to try and overcome them.

After copious amounts of research, the group developed “Electrick,” a low-cost sensing technique “that enables touch input on a wide variety of objects and surfaces, whether small or large, flat or irregular.”

The technique depends on the process of electric field tomography and electrically conductive materials, which can either be found or created using special coatings. Electrick can even be used to equip 3D printed or laser-cut objects with sensors.

The researchers also used their technique to make a car steering wheel responsive to touch commands

According to the Carnegie Mellon researchers, turning static 3D printed objects into interactive systems is actually quite simple.

The process involves spraying a conductive coating onto the object, before adding sensing electrodes the periphery of the desired sensing area. This allows a previously static 3D printed object to become touch-sensitive, allowing users to either push “buttons” on areas of the object, or drag their finger (or a stylus) around an area for coarse continuous touch tracking, as with an artist’s tablet.

You can even use 3D printing filament that is already conductive: many PLA and ABS formulations are available that contain metallic particles, making them conductive and therefore responsive to Electrick’s sensing system.

“Our sensing principle works by injecting a small electric current into the conductive layer using a pair of electrodes,” the researchers explain. “We then measure the voltage at all other adjacent electrode pairs. When a finger touches the surface, some current is shunted, causing a localized reduction in voltage.

“To better estimate the touch location, we rotate the current-emitting pair and repeat this process. This results in a mesh of cross-sectional measurements. Using tomographic reconstruction, we can create a 2D touch sensing image, revealing finger locations.”

While experimenting with their new technique, the researchers were able to implement sensing technology into a diverse range of objects: desktops, walls, toys, a car steering wheel, a guitar, and even play-doh. So think before investing in your next smartphone or tablet: you could transform your home into a giant computer instead.

This animation and repurposing of previously static objects could, according to the group, change the way we think about interacting with our everyday environments.

“We believe this work can bring touch interactivity to new classes of objects,” the researchers say, concluding that the technique could “enable designers to rapidly prototype objects with innate interactive capabilities.”

See Electrick with your own eyes in the video below.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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