If you thought that Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Home was the height of in-home convenience, you have yet to be introduced to the capabilities of the smart ‘Wall++’, the brainchild of collaboration between Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University. Likened to a wall-to-ceiling trackpad, the Wall++ allows its users to create their own customized layout of touch and gesture-sensitive tools such as light switches, music-playing devices, and command controls for your TV, Amazon Echo, gaming consoles. And all of this will look just like the same walls you currently use to hang up your family pictures.
Welcome to the future.
The touch-sensitive Wall++ is made possible through a process in which conductive paint and an electrode grid are applied and installed. First, painters tape is applied in a crisscrossed pattern across the entirety of the wall. Next, two layers of conductive paint are administered, with the removal of the tape revealing a grid of diamond-shaped pathways intersecting the conductive paint. Using those pathways as a guide, the electrodes are installed, and another layer of standard latex paint is applied, creating the appearance of a regular wall.
Except it’s not. Now, with the electrodes and conductive paint underlying the topcoat, it’s capable of being utilized as a Wall++.
Once the custom sensor, another creation of the CMU/Disney Research team, is connected to the wall, the potential applications are astounding. As noted, this includes the ability to use the wall as a capacitive touchpad, using custom motions – swipes, taps, etc. – to control everything from appliances to your favorite playlist. But it also can serve as a passive antenna, more specifically, an electromagnetic sensor. This means that the wall becomes a detector of what appliances are on or off, alerting persons in the home and adjusting linked appliances based upon custom-tailored settings.
So, if your laundry finishes up three rooms away, the wall can alert you to it before wrinkles form. Or, if you prefer your lights to be dimmed or off when you turn on the television to watch The Godfather or Frozen for the umpteenth time, the TV and lights can be coordinated so that by the time the trailers are playing, the lights are down low, without you even pressing a button. It really is the height of convenience, and it takes advantage of a feature that everyone’s home or apartment contains, but until now hasn’t really functioned as a true asset to the in-home experience; the wall.
If you ask your Alexa device or Google Home, ‘let me know when my laundry finishes,’ it will reply that it has no idea what you are talking about, said Chris Harrison, head of Carnegie Mellon’s Future Interfaces Group (FIG). That’s a missed opportunity. These devices could be so much smarter if they knew what was going on around them and inside of buildings in general.
Harrison has a point, and he has been one of the members integral in creating a solution to the limitations of current smart devices. The future of smart devices? Smart walls, specifically the Wall++. It gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘if walls could talk’. These smart walls can’t technically talk (not yet, at least), but they can watch, for most intents and purposes.
The next step is to make the Wall++ more energy-efficient, which will be the next progression in bringing smart walls into the mainstream. Read more about the Wall++ in the researchers’ paper here.