Cambridge, U.K., startup Novalia says it will demo a low-cost, patented manufacturing technology at CES that would allow Bluetooth 4.0 control to be added to paper, cards and plastic.
The technology is said to combine standard print processes like screen print, flexography, and offset lithography with capacitive touch technology. An embedded Nordic Semiconductor nRF51822 System-on-Chip is attached to the desired material. A smartphone/tablet app provides user control.
According to a press release from Nordic, the CES demo will be
a fully-functioning QWERTY keyboard printed with conductive ink on a regular sheet of U.K. A4-sized photo paper (11.7 x 8.3-inch) that weighs just 30g (not including batteries). A 4.7 x 1.0-inch (120 x 25mm) control module with battery (2 x CR2016 watch batteries) and electronics housing is just 0.08-inches (2mm) deep, while the keyboard area, according to Novalia, can be as thin as 50-microns (0.005mm). Novalia says that this is about 10x thinner than any other keyboard ever produced and can be printed at 100 meters-per-minute on a standard print press
In operation, the QWERTY keyboard keys are printed on a regular sheet of 70gsm A4-sized paper layered upon a 20×8, X-Y touch matrix substrate printed on the photo paper that can be re-configured in software to represent any language or indeed other user or developer-assigned functionality. The Nordic Semiconductor nRF51822′s on-board 32-bit ARM Cortex M0 based processor manages the capacitive touch side of the application, while the SoC’s class-leading ultra low power performance supports a battery life of up to 18-months (9-months for a single CR2032).
Novalia has already developed a simpler version of the keyboard called Switchboard, which comprises eight capacitive touch buttons printed onto an ultra light-weight piece of printed paper mounted on a foam card.
What are the applications and implications of this technology? We’re interested to find out at CES. The release gives us a sense of the possibilities:
A free demo app from Novalia used in conjunction with the Switchboard, as an illustrative example, can conduct an 8-piece Jazz or Latin music band (audio being replayed through a smartphone or tablet), control iTunes (play, pause, skip, +/- volume), select up to eight specific tracks from an iTunes playlist, and even send Tweets.
Another popular early demo developed by Novalia is a U.K. A2 paper-sized (23.4 x 16.5-inch) drum poster comprising a printed image of [a] drum kit that allows users to play the drums either standalone or wirelessly through a Bluetooth v4.0 enabled iPhone or iPad by simply touching the individual drum or cymbal pictured.
Quoth Novalia CEO Dr. Kate Stone:
The really clever bit… is being able to literally print touch sensors, with no metallic wiring, using local existing print processes anywhere in the world, and so at very low cost. And the functionality of all of these devices is defined in software and so could be shipped digitally.
In particular I would love to see this technology being used to make everyday physical objects we all know and love, such as books and traditional music packaging, that have recently been in terminal commercial decline, perhaps being updated and possibly even made relevant again.
And low-cost keyboards made of paper could also form part of charitable and NGO initiatives to enable even the poorest people in the developing world to access modern technology for the first time. The possibilities are endless.
Novalia is offering a developers kit to interested companies.
Nordic Semiconductor will be located in South Hall 2 of the Las Vegas Convention Center, Booth MP25277.