Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research have created a smart wall that is able to sense human presence, as well as act like a touch panel for a smart home.
For example, homeowners can switch the light by a single touch on the wall, or play video games by gestures towards the wall. Because the system monitors the whole room, it can automatically adjust light levels when the TV is turned on.
Walls are usually the largest surface in a room, however, people don’t really utilize the area rather than hanging pictures and placing shelves. This triggered the researchers to dig into how walls can play its role in the future home.
They use conductive paint to produce electrodes across the surface of a wall, turning it into a ceiling-to-ground touchpad and an electromagnetic sensor to detect and track electrical devices.
Creating this smart wall isn’t so complicated. In the research, they found out a cross-hatched pattern on a wall for a grid of diamonds creates the most effective electrode pattern. After applying painter’s tape for the patterns and two coats of conductive paint with a roller, they removed the tape and connected the electrodes. Then it can finished with a top coat of standard latex paint for durability and hiding the electrodes.
The electrodes works in two modes. In capacitive sensing, it functions like a capacitive touchpad and brings order from human’s gestures and touches; in electromagnetic sensing mode, the electrode detects distinctive electromagnetic signatures of electronic devices and telling the system which and where the device is.
The materials to make the wall cost about US$20 per square meter, according to the researchers.
Although the installed process sounds relatively simple, the researchers suggest that it wouldn’t be a DIY project for every homeowners or a typical construction crew. Installers do need specialized knowledge and the team’s goal is to work with construction partners to make this wall commercially available.
“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,” said Chris Harrison, the assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, in a statement.