Researchers turn walls into smart infrastructure that can sense human touch and detect gestures when appliances are used
By Edsel Cook // May 23, 2018

The latest smart device to enter your home will be the very walls themselves. An article in NanoWerks stated that a couple of layers of conductive paint plus electronics can turn "dumb" dividers into smart walls.


Called Wall++, these smart walls will be able to detect human touch, recognize gestures, and stay aware of other active smart appliances. Potential uses include playing video games by way of gestures and setting up or transferring control systems – such as light switches – on the most convenient part of the wall.

A smart wall will also be able to monitor rooms for activity and respond appropriately, such as adjusting the lighting when the TV is turned on, or alerting someone from the other room when the kettle has finished boiling water or when the laundry machine has completed a load. (Related: “Smart” homes of the future replacing role of biological PARENTS, thanks to creepy new Google patent for Big Brother system.)

Converting a wall to its smart counterpart is estimated to cost roughly $20 per square meter. Wall++ won't need expensive tools and fancy methods; an ordinary paint roller will suffice for the most part.

The smart wall is a joint project developed by partners Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Disney Research.

CMU assistant professor Chris Harrison teaches at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII). Noting that walls are badly underused for their significant surface area, he believed that walls can become active parts of the home environment thanks to computing and the Internet of Things.

His student, Yang Zhang, demonstrated his findings regarding the smart wall at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal, Canada on April 2018. His paper is called "Wall++: Room-Scale Interactive and Context-Aware Sensing."

A coat of smart paint and some electrodes will turn any wall into a smart wall

In the study, Harrison, Zhang, and the other researchers applied conductive paint to a wall. The paint created electrodes that served two functions: A touch pad that keeps track of a user's touch and an electromagnetic sensor that can spot electrical appliances and devices.

Zhang and his research team consciously avoided conductive paints that relied on silver or other costly materials. Instead, they selected a water-based paint that used much cheaper nickel as its conductive material.

In addition, the CMU research team made sure the conductive paint could be applied to any wall by untrained persons using ordinary tools. They used painter's tape to create cross-hatched patterns on a wall, forming a diamond-shaped grid for electrodes.

The researchers used a roller to apply two coats of conductive paint to the wall. Next, they got rid of the tape and linked the electrodes together.

The final step was adding a layer of standard latex paint. This top coat will protect the conductive paint and conceal the electrodes, and voilà: The ordinary wall is now a Wall++ smart wall with two modes of operation: Capacitative sensing and electromagnetic (EM) sensing.

Smart wall can function as giant touch pad or track down electromagnetic signatures

Capacitative sensing mode turns the wall into a giant touch pad. Touching the wall disrupts the electrostatic field at the point of contact.

In electromagnetic sensing mode, Wall++ can detect the EM signals given off by electrical appliances and electronic devices. The wall-mounted electrodes will be able to recognize these items and track down their positions. The smart wall can follow a person's movements if the latter is wearing a device with an electromagnetic signature.

Zhang believed that the wall-sized electrodes have the same power requirement as a typical touchscreen. Wall++ can be optimized to save on power and make it even cheaper.

Find out what part of your home might get turned into a smart device at

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