The new technology, called Electrick, works very much like the type of touchscreen you’re used to does. All you have to do is coat an object with the conductive spray paint, allow those surfaces to conduct a small amount of electricity (via a process called electric field tomography), and electrodes placed around the surface’s edges will be able to detect when and were your finger has disrupted the charge. This method isn’t quite as accurate as your phone’s touchscreen, but scientists have tested the technique on a guitar and a brain made of Jell-O and found that it can locate a finger accurate to within a centimeter.
The spray can be applied to a variety of objects, anything from plastic toys to smartphone cases, and even to Jell-O. In the video below, the team describe the various uses for this technology.
For example, applying the spray or paint to a table, you could have certain locations that are touch sensitive to open apps on your computer. A toy could be made to make noises when you touch its nose or belly. And a brain-shaped piece of Jell-O can be used to teach people about the various regions of the brain.
The effect is known as shunting, where electric current is “shunted” to the ground when a finger touches a particular location. The electrodes can localize where this shunting is occurring, using a process known as electric field tomography.
The team also found no wear in any of the objects they made, with some used up to 896 times by participants. They note, however, that they’re not sure how the coating will hold up to elements like rain, and environmental electromagnetic noise from other appliances affected the accuracy.