Disney wants to make your wall your control interface

Sure, voice is cool, and you can’t beat a good touch panel, but what about using the wall itself as a control interface for your home?

That’s what scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania and the local Disney Research branch have been working on lately, and it’s come to fruition with a research paper outlining the use of a smart wall able to detect both touch and movement around it.

In their research entitled ‘Wall++: Room-Scale Interactive and Context-Aware Sensing,’ the team involved explain how they turned mere static walls (installed simply to separate spaces) into interactive, sensing, “smart” walls. Their prototype, the Wall++, can demonstrably track touches and gestures, as well as recognising the positions of people nearby and active electrical appliances.

This all may seem pretty expensive, but keeping development costs down was prioritised by Carnegie and Disney who lined up numerous different types of conductive paints and worked out how to apply them and tested with and without topcoats to create the most cost-efficient prototype. They also experimented with wall electrodes to create the optimal pattern and the sensitivity of the required antenna.

A water-based nickel paint was opted for in the end, deployed in a diamond pattern with a simple roller, with vinyl stickers (for insulation), a latex paint topcoat and electrodes connected with copper tape. This formed the basis of Wall++, and allowed it to detect the presence and touch of people in close proximity – and coming in at only $21 per square metre. Wearing a wristband (emitting a 1.5 MHz signal) also allowed the wall to track specific individuals’ movement. It also can pick up appliances working nearby and where they are located by capturing airborne electromagnetic noise.

Whether the thought of the walls having eyes excites or terrifies you, it’s nonetheless an interesting concept. There’s significant potential to implement the technology for a control interface (e.g. allowing users to click to turn devices on or off or even automatically through tracking device positioning), as well being useful later down the line in gaming and when AR is more widely adopted.

The researchers’ paper publically introducing the Wall++ concept was presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal, Canada, last week. There’s more work to be done on Wall++ concept for now, but watch this space for more updates from those involved.