Science fiction stories promised us a lot of things that have failed to materialize—flying cars, space vacations, and hoverboards that don’t spontaneously burst into flames. But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University may have found a way to make cheap, mass-produced “smart” paper a reality.
From Analog to Digital
There have been a few attempts already at translating printed or written materials to the digital world. Smart notebooks that can capture your pen strokes and apps that can save your doodles and handwritten notes are already available, but the Future Interfaces research team at Carnegie Mellon recently took things one step further. Their touch-sensitive paper can track pressure from a fingertip, pen or stylus, making it possible to easily digitize handwriting, drawings, and more.
Just Like Real Paper, Only better
“For paper to still be paper, our method had to be low cost,” the team spokesperson announced in a video released earlier this week.
The research team wanted to use real, everyday paper as the basis for their product. Through trial and error, they crossed several methods and materials off their list, but finally they found two ways to make the smart paper function. Both use a carbon-based coating—one in the form of a pre-fabricated sheet that can be adhered to any surface, and the other a paint or spray that can be applied to rolls of paper during production.
This makes it possible to create the paper in bulk—something the team wanted to ensure in order to make the product financially viable. With the current method, each sheet would cost around $.30, but the team hopes to find ways to lower the price.
Right now, individual sheets of paper with the special coating on the back can be attached to a sensor that converts pressure to real-time digital input. They hope that the technology can be used to create smart notebooks as well. Some other possibilities include interactive worksheets for students, board games, smart Post-It notes, and even interactive newspapers that allow you to share articles on social media.
While it’s not quite ready for consumers, the researchers are confident that this is the first step toward making cheap, disposable smart paper a reality, stating, “We believe this illuminates one possible approach for achieving low-cost, interactive, paper-based experiences in the future.”