Spray paint isn’t just for showing off in front of the cool kids, anymore – well, at least not in the same way.
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but a team of scientists from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania has successfully developed a kind of spray paint that can turn virtually any surface into a touch screen.
The spray, dubbed Electrick, is made of an electrically conductive carbon-based material which, when applied to an object, enables it to conduct electricity. By applying electrodes to the object and measuring the voltage at various points, the movement of a person’s finger can be tracked.
"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, assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and head of the Future Interfaces Group at CMU.
The spray can be applied to a range of objects. Applying the spray to a table, for example, could allow you to render certain locations touch sensitive to open programs on your computer.
It’s an effect known as shunting, wherein electric current is “shunted” to the ground when a finger touches a certain spot. The electrodes can locate where the shunting takes place using a process called electric field tomography.
In an open access paper, the researchers write that modern touch screen technology isn’t suited to large applications like tables or desks. With Electrick, things as large as a wall can be rendered touch sensitive, allowing users to turn on the lights in a room with the touch of a finger.
The researchers also said the technology works with manufacturing processes like spray coating, casting or even 3D printing, meaning a huge variety of objects could be rendered touch sensitive with little additional technology needed.
The future, it seems, has arrived - and it's touch sensitive.