[Image above] Credit: Carnegie Mellon University, Yang Zhang

Behold the elemental wall.

We’ve progressed beyond one-room buildings of the 19th century when builders and architects used walls to divide up space and create separate rooms, providing privacy for the occupants.

Walls have served to display our fine art, wall hangings, photos, and now, TVs. Walls have been papered, painted, and used as a canvas for children to explore their creativity. They hold the roof up and provide us with personal space in our homes and offices.

Despite all of that functionality, the lowly wall hasn’t really advanced much over the years.

But a collaboration between researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research could give walls a new purpose. Using conductive paint to create electrodes on a wall’s surface, the researchers turned an ordinary wall into an interactive surface that can track electrical devices, appliances, and even a human’s touch.

“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,” assistant professor in CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute and CMU alumnus Chris Harrison says in a CMU news release. “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.”

The new system, called Wall++, is easily applied without any special tools. The researchers roll two coats of conductive paint over the surface of the wall in a diamond grid pattern. After attaching the electrodes, they cover the entire wall with regular latex paint.

“Walls are large, so we knew that whatever technique we invented for smart walls would have to be low cost,” Ph.D. student and coauthor of the team’s paper Yang Zhang explains in the release. Materials used in the interactive wall cost the researchers approximately $20 per square meter.

Wall++ functions in two modes—capacitive sensing mode in which the wall acts like a touchscreen on a smartphone or tablet, and electromagnetic sensing mode in which electrodes can identify nearby electrical and electronic devices and their locations.

The technology would make it easy to automatically adjust light levels, monitor appliances and devices in other rooms, or place switches or controls on a wall where it is convenient for end users, according to the researchers in the release.

Yang presented the team’s paper at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems last month in Montreal, Canada.

Watch the video below to see how an ordinary wall is transformed into Wall++.

And watch this video to see Zhang present the research team’s paper.

Want to read more articles like this? Subscribe to the Ceramic Tech Today newsletter to continue to receive the latest news in the ceramic and glass industry right in your inbox! Visit this link to get started.