In a world increasingly dominated by touchscreens, a London design studio is taking an approach to touch that's both low(er)-tech and innovative at the same time. Bare Conductive raised over US$200,000 on Kickstarter last year for an Arduino-based project called Touch Board that turns any conductive material into a potential capacitive touch input, including the firm's own conductive electric paint. Gizmag's Eric Mack was able to see the Touch Board in action and speak with co-founder Matt Johnson at the Bay Area Maker Faire.

The Touch Board is based around an Arduino Leonardo board that also sports an MP3 player / MIDI device, a MicroSD card socket, 3.5 mm audio jack and what Johnson described as the "secret sauce" – a custom chip that allows the Touch Board to act as a capacitive sensor. The Bare Conductive booth at Maker Faire had several instruments created from electric paint connected to Touch Boards and headphones on display that all worked as advertised.

Perhaps the most straightforward demonstration of the Touch Board's potential as a sensor was the piano setup at Maker Faire (you can also see it in the video below). Miniature piano keys painted on to a flat surface are connected – also via the electric paint – to the board, with each note connected to a different electrode input point on the board.

Touch Board as an educational tool

The board comes pre-programmed to play a different sound for each input when triggered. The sounds are loaded via the MicroSD card slot, making them easy to swap out when you're done with the piano and ready to move on to something else. Touch Board works with any conductive material, and although it comes pre-programmed, it can also be programmed like any other Arduino.

To take full advantage of the Touch Board's capacitive capabilities, a bit of "distance code" can be uploaded to the board, making the touch sensor sensitive enough that you can interact with it from up to 20 cm (7.8 in) away. Wave a hand or walk by any connected conductive material and you can still trigger a sound (or an action using compatible Arduino shields). This would even work if the sensor were hidden under non-conductive material like a sheet of paper or glass.

Bare Conductive's new DJ kit

Bare Conductive also showed off a new DJ kit using the Touch Board at Maker Faire and is soliciting feedback from the early birds that were able to snag one from the limited run of 50 kits. The DJ kits may be all gone for now, but the Touch Board is on sale online for about $93.

Demos of the Touch Board can be seen in the video below, including the "air drum pad" that demonstrates the distance code.

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