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Smart polling allows for live feedback without working about expensive devices. Image via Eric Brockmeyer/Disney Research
Smart polling allows for live feedback without working about expensive devices. Image via Eric Brockmeyer/Disney Research.

Despite a wealth of cheap screens, printing information on paper is often still easier than sending it out digitally. But a new connected paper technology developed by the University of Washington, Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University adds an interactive edge to the printed page.

PaperID uses battery-free RFID technology to detect touch, swipes and even hand waves by measuring disturbances in the signal. This means teachers can quickly see how kids are doing on a test or makers can quickly iterate interactive smart-home features without costly prototyping.

“Paper is our inspiration for this technology,” said lead author Hanchuan Li, a UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering. “A piece of paper is still by far one of the most ubiquitous mediums. If RFID tags can make interfaces as simple, flexible and cheap as paper, it makes good sense to deploy those tags anywhere.”

The RFID tags are versatile, about 10 cents each, and can be applied as stickers, stencils or freehand drawing with a special pen. Since RFID tags have unique IDs, a single reader in the room can track many tags in a crowded room.

In addition to touch and movement around the RFID tag, the PaperID system can also sense movement of the tag itself. Researchers showed off how it can be used to visualize wind speed via a pinwheel. A sheet of paper can also be rolled into a conductor’s baton to lead a virtual orchestra and control music playback.

The ubiquity of paper helped the team settle on the medium, but its flexibility, low cost and eco-friendly attributes also made dead tree pulp an appealing choice. However, the team’s tech could be used on other surfaces, adding interactive elements cheaply to a wide range of objects.

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