APR 27, 2018 1:07 PM PDT

Smart Walls With Touch and Sense Capabilities

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

In many structures, walls are space that is yet to be capitalized on in terms of multi-purpose electronic functionality. This is the stance of a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research, who have invented a type of “smart wall” named the Wall++. This innovative room barrier can function in either a touch-screen or electromagnetic sensing mode, allowing it to monitor, detect, and potentially respond to and interact with nearby people and devices.

Wall++, credit: Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research

"Walls are usually the largest surface area in a room, yet we don't make much use of them other than to separate spaces, and perhaps hold up pictures and shelves. As the internet of things and ubiquitous computing become reality, it is tempting to think that walls can become active parts of our living and work environments," CMU Human-Computer Interaction Institute Assistant Professor Chris Harrison said.

To make Wall++ work, conductive paint is applied to the surface of a wall, followed by electrodes. The team uses a water based-paint with nickel for this project because it is cheaper than those containing silver. The paint can be applied with a normal paint roller.

The researchers find that interlocking diamond shapes let the smart wall application function at its best, so they create this motif with the help of painters’ tape. After the tape is removed, the wall is connected to a custom sensor board. Finally, a layer of latex paint is added to cover the electronic features and fortify the wall’s surface.

If this type of wall is in the EM mode, electrodes can identify specific devices and their locations. In touch or capacitive sensing mode, the wall behaves like a touch screen. Capacitive sensing is a technology that senses changes in a surface electrical charge that differ from the surrounding air. With these two modes, many potential functions are possible for this unique structure and surface treatment, including tracking wearable devices, people and gestures; containing movable light switches or other controls, monitoring local appliances and controlling them or sending relevant alerts; or the many other capabilities of interactive touch screens.

Because a cheaper paint was deployed, the researchers were able to keep the project cost at about $20 per square meter. According to HCII Ph.D. student Yang Zhang, the wall system’s energy consumption has not been “optimized,” and is currently estimated to be comparable to that of standard touchscreen devices.

Zhang presented a related paper, “Wall++: Room-Scale Interactive and Context-Aware Sensing,” at the April 2018 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal.

“Through a series of evaluations, we demonstrate Wall++ can enable robust room-scale interactive and context-aware applications,’ the authors state.



Carnegie Mellon University

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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