Printed paper products have may advantages – they provide a tactile, rich and memorable experiences. But in terms of interactivity and responsiveness, they haven’t earned top honors. This is about to change: In recent months, we have seen considerable progress in the area of printed electronics. Thanks to breakthroughs in conductive ink and printing processes, paper has become a more interactive and exciting medium.
The newest invention: Paper Pulse, a software that turns ordinary sheets of paper into interactive devices using a simple design process. No programming experience is necessary. The interactive paper designed with the help of Paper Pulse can be used for gift packaging, postcards, creative menus, interactive labels, games and even for blinking business cards.
The software developed by researchers at Hasselt University iMinds in Belgium lets users combine 20 interactive components that can be printed with conductive ink on a home printer. A few electric components such as LEDs and microcontrollers need to be purchased.
At the start of the project, the researchers asked themselves if they could design a tool for visual designers to create functional paper electronics without any technical skills that would be as easy to work with as common design tools like Photoshop or Illustrator. They worked on a set-up in which the designer doesn’t have to write code. Instead, the software lets the users specify the logic between elements like sliders, buttons, microphones, and LEDs.
The software interface lets users drag and drop familiar elements and then specify the desired action by issuing if-then commands or map-to rules using a drop-down menu. If the user sets the slider to the appropriate value and adjust the brightness of the simulated LED, the software will generate the code. It will also make suggestions such as setting the brightness of the LED to zero when a button is pressed or released.
The software creates a PDF that contains the circuits and other visual elements. A tutorial that shows the users how to fold, cut and glue the paper and where to attach the widgets, LEDs, microphones and batteries is also provided. In a last step, the user attaches the microcontroller and uploads the programming code generated by the software directly onto the microcontroller via a USB cable.
The research team has filed a patent related to PaperPulse and is working on making it commercially available. The next steps are more practical, however: They want to bring more components than the 15 currently possible on paper and find ways to have one microcontroller control several papers so that more complex installations become possible.