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Electrick is a spray that adds touch sensing to various objects made from carbon conductive paint. With a little spray and some electrodes, the guitar is now touch screen enabled (Image via Future Interfaces Group)


We interact we touchscreens every day from our phones to certain game consoles. And, for the most part, they’ve made tasks easier. What if you could make anything into a touchscreen? Now, there may just be a cheap way to make that happen. Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group revealed their latest project Electrick, at the ACM CHI conference. Electrick is a low-cost solution to adding touch sensing on almost any object with a conductive surface. This would be a surface that’s either made out of conductive material or has a conductive coating.


All you do is spray Electrick on the surface and apply several sensor electrodes to the object, with another pair of electrodes injecting a small current to the surface. This process is repeated by rotating the pair of electrodes emitting currents. When you put your finger on the surface, some of the currents are shunted and reduce the localized voltages during each cycle. This helps the sensor track the finger’s 2D position.


Electrick works surprisingly well, though it doesn’t work as well as traditional touchscreens, as you can imagine. The Future Interfaces Group provided several demos of how Electrick works on various surfaces. For example, they sprayed the face of an electric guitar and attached electrodes along its edges. They then dragged custom controls, like a tremolo arm and filter button, into the proper places using the companion app. After this, the player is able to change the tone and sound of the guitar with just one tap.


Another demo shows Electrick sprayed onto a car steering wheel with electrodes attached to the outer edge. Now the steering wheel can be enabled with different dashboard applications or even act as a hand detection feature for safe driving. The spray also works on large surfaces, like desks and walls letting you assign spots for apps or toggle functions on your computer.


This all sounds great, but you have to keep in mind it will probably not work as well as the touchscreen on your phone. But at least with Electrick, you don’t have to worry about cracked surfaces. Don’t expect to find it on store shelves just yet. It’s still a year away from being ready for the masses according to Future Interfaces Group director Chris Harrison. Once the performance issues and noise filtering have been tightened up, it should be ready to go.


The idea of having just about anything with touchscreen controls sounds great, but think about how finicky normal touchscreen is. There are times when it’s unresponsive or just doesn’t work. Do you really want to implement this feature on objects like desks and walls? Better wait until all the kinks are worked out of this one.



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