Spray-on touchscreen tech can adapt to almost any shape
Through a combination of 3D printing techniques and sprayable electronic technology, researchers have come up with a new kind of touchscreen display that can be adapted to almost any shape. They're calling it ProtoSpray.
In the demonstration video below, you can see ProtoSpray working on a cube, a hemisphere shape, and a bendable Möbius strip-shaped tube, showing off the flexibility of the new process. The team behind the work is hoping that it will encourage inventors and manufacturers to create interactive objects of all shapes and sizes.
These objects combine a 3D-printed substrate, interconnected electrodes set out in a preset design, and an evenly distributed layer of electroluminescent (EL) ink, in whatever configuration is needed. The idea, say the researchers, is to get people thinking about displays in the same way as plastics or paints.
The finished products partially light up when an electrical charge is applied, and can also respond to simple touch inputs. They could be used to do everything from open office doors to guide visitors round an interactive museum tour.
"We have liberated displays from their 2D rectangular casings by developing a process so people can build interactive objects of any shape," says University of Bristol researcher Ollie Hanton, lead author of a paper on the work. "The process is very accessible: it allows end-users to create objects with conductive plastic and electroluminescent paint even if they don’t have expertise in these materials."
The team has even put together a do-it-yourself guide, though we wouldn't recommend it unless you're absolutely sure you know what you're doing (and have a bit of cash to spare).
There's still plenty of scope for progress here: one possible next step is to look into building a machine that's able to produce the base object and sprayed ink in one process, making it even more efficient and viable for commercial use. In the meantime, it's another example of thinking outside the box when it comes to both display output and touch input. Some of the same researchers were previously behind a spraying process that can make almost any surface interactive.
"Using 3D printing of plastics and spraying of materials that light up when electricity is applied, we can support makers to produce objects of all shapes that can display information and detect touch," adds Hanton. "Our vision is to make screen/display a fundamental expressive medium in the same way people currently use ink, paint, or clay."
The paper was recently presented at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI).
Source: University of Bristol