Purdue printing process turns any paper into a keyboard

At Purdue University, engineers have developed a new technology that can transform sheets of paper from a notebook into a human-machine interface. Purdue's process could also make food packaging interactive. The simple printing process developed at the University turns any paper or cardboard packaging into a keyboard, keypad, or other human-machine interfaces.

Researcher Ramses Martinez says that the process is the first time self-powered paper-based electronic devices have been demonstrated. The team developed a process to render paper repellent to water, oil, and dust by coating it with highly fluorinated molecules. The resulting omniphobic coating allows printing multiple layers of circuits onto paper without smearing the ink from one layer to the next.

The innovation allows the construction of vertical pressure sensors that don't require an external battery thanks to their ability to harvest energy from contact with the user. The technology is compatible with conventional large-scale printing processes. It could be implemented easily and rapidly to convert cardboard packaging or paper into smart packaging or a smart human-machine interface.

The team designed standard sheets of paper that could be used for music player interfaces to allow users to choose songs, play them, and change the volume. Some of the technologies the team has developed have been patented already.

There is no indication of when this technology might turn up on commercial products. However, the University is looking for companies to license the technology. Perhaps someday, in the future, the technology could be used to deliver interactive messages about if food inside the package is safe to be eaten or to allow users to sign a package that arrives by dragging the finger over a box to identify themselves.