ProtoSpray Enables 3D Printed Touchscreens for Interactive Parts

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One of the most exciting aspects of the world of technology is how one innovation builds atop one another. From basic computers, we moved to more complex operating systems and touchscreen technology—and for cell phones, too, as they graduated into smartphones. From the first basic SLA 3D printer brought forth by Chuck Hull in the 80s, we have moved forward to a staggering array of hardware, software, and materials that are available to users around the globe.

Now these technologies come together as a research team at the University of Bristol offers a new way to advance the modern touchscreen with 3D printing. While many of us may have gotten used to the same old style of dealing with interactive computer displays (not forgetting how exciting such advancements were when first rolled out!) due to rote daily exercise, the researchers from Bristol decided to push the limits of mediocrity with 3D touchscreens.

Using a novel interactive display that is actually sprayed onto 3D-printed parts (think of how graffiti artists perform their work), the team has introduced ProtoSpray, in collaboration with the MIT media lab. Dr. Anne Roudaut, Associate Professor in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Bristol, who supervised the research, expects that they will continue with this project in designing a machine that offers an all-in-one production technique for 3D printing and spraying.

“We have liberated displays from their 2D rectangular casings by developing a process so people can build interactive objects of any shape. The process is very accessible: it allows end-users to create objects with conductive plastic and electroluminescent paint even if they don’t have expertise in these materials,” said Ollie Hanton, PhD student and lead author of the research, recently presented at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI).

Encouraging users to expand their horizons in using digital technology, Hanton and his team expect ProtoSpray to appeal to other makers, hobbyists, and researchers who are interested in more dynamic interaction with shapes, whether they are flat, curved, angular, or of more complex geometries.

“3D printers have enabled personal fabrication of objects but our work takes this even further to where we print not only plastic but also other materials that are essential for creating displays. Using 3D printing of plastics and spraying of materials that light up when electricity is applied, we can support makers to produce objects of all shapes that can display information and detect touch,” said Hanton. “Our vision is to make screen/display a fundamental expressive medium in the same way people currently use ink, paint, or clay,.”

[Source / Images: ScienceDaily; screenshots from ProtoSpray YouTube video]

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