Mark Bridge writes:
Imagine books that could automatically link with your tablet as you touched the pages. Or posters that reacted to your fingertips and displayed the results on your smartphone. It seems this kind of Bluetooth-enabled interactivity is just around the corner, thanks to tiny low-power processors and a patented printing process that doesn’t require specialised equipment.
In fact, next January’s International CES show will see a demonstration of QWERTY keyboards that cost just $10 (£6) and are printed on A4 paper.
It’s achieved by combining the Nordic Semiconductor nRF51822 ‘system on a chip’ with printing from Cambridge-based Novalia and low-power Bluetooth v4.0 technology. A small battery-powered electronics module is attached to the printed material.
For the keyboard demonstration, a 120mm x 25mm control module with 2 watch batteries is attached to a sheet of A4-size paper that’s been printed with conductive ink and has a printed touch matrix underneath. The electronics are just 2mm deep, while the keyboard can be just 0.005mm thick. Thanks to the low power required by Bluetooth 4.0, the batteries will last for up to 18 months.
Novalia has already demonstrated an eight-button ‘switchboard’ and a drum poster that can either offer standalone sound effects or will work via an iPhone app.
Dr Kate Stone, founder and CEO of Novalia, said “All of the above demos can be achieved with an electronics control module as thin as 2mm in thickness and support an X-Y printed touch-pad as thin as 50-microns. The really clever bit, however, is being able to literally print touch sensors, with no metallic wiring, using local existing print processes anywhere in the world, and so at very low cost. And the functionality of all of these devices is defined in software and so could be shipped digitally. In particular I would love to see this technology being used to make everyday physical objects we all know and love, such as books and traditional music packaging, that have recently been in terminal commercial decline, perhaps being updated and possibly even made relevant again. And low cost keyboards made of paper could also form part of charitable and NGO initiatives to enable even the poorest people in the developing world to access modern technology for the first time. The possibilities are endless.”