Imagine a world with no remote controls. No thermostats. No light switches.
Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory did just that … and came up with a way to spray paint user interfaces onto everyday objects.
MIT researchers developed “SprayableTech,” which allows users to customize and create room-sized interfaces and displays by airbrushing conductive inks onto otherwise rough surfaces.
For example, if you have a brown couch and want to use the couch itself as a remote for a television, you’d spray the conductive ink in a transparent color to embed it with connected sensors. A microcontroller is then attached to the interface and to the board that runs the code for sensing the visual output.
This way you can swipe your hand over the arm of the couch to change the channel, turn up the volume, or do whatever you’d like.
“Since SprayableTech is so flexible in its application, you can imagine using this type of system beyond walls and surfaces to power larger-scale entities like interactive smart cities and interactive architecture in public places,” said Michael Wessely, a researcher at MIT. “We view this as a tool that will allow humans to interact with and use their environment in newfound ways.”
The technology doesn’t have to be confined to furniture, either.
MIT researchers also created a 3D toolkit, where users can design their own digital objects and customize them based on proximity sensors, touch buttons, sliders, and electroluminescent displays. For example, if you wanted to control the lights of a building by designing a rainbow that lights up red, orange, and yellow as you wave your hand over each hue, you could use the toolkit to develop a stencil that can easily be sprayed in the same pattern with conductive ink corresponding with each color.
The team tested a variety of different uses for the SprayableTech, including a musical interface on a concrete pillar and a light post with a touchable display that provides audible information on local attractions and public transportation options.
The hope of this new technology is to build more user-friendly interfaces within public spaces — abandoning the rather large glass wall displays with quick-shifting images commonly seen in pop culture and sci-fi films like Iron Man, The Matrix Reloaded, and Mission: Impossible 4.
“In the future, we aim to collaborate with graffiti artists and architects to explore the future potential for large-scale user interfaces in enabling the internet of things for smart cities and interactive homes,” said Wessely.