Researchers digitize writing with cheap, touch-sensitive paper

It costs $0.30 per sheet.

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Yang Zhang and Chris Harrison
Yang Zhang and Chris Harrison

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a paper that can track touch, which, among other applications, could lead to an inexpensive way to digitize writing. They're presenting their work this week at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

The paper itself is your typical, run-of-the-mill paper, but conductive material is applied to the back. While looking for the best conductive material to attach to the paper, the researchers wanted to make sure it was as inexpensive as possible and could be applied in a high-volume production scenario. Many materials were eliminated due to high costs, non-scalability and poor interaction with paper, but the researchers found two that were suitable -- a carbon-loaded plastic sheet that can be adhered to the paper and carbon-loaded paint that can be silk-screened, brushed or sprayed on.

Once a sensor board is connected to the sheet of paper with one of the conductive backings applied, it allows touch -- whether it be from a finger, a pen or a stylus -- to be digitized and applied in a variety of ways. As you can see in the video below, the researchers used their paper to digitize notes, enhance a board game, grade a test in real time and even share articles in a printed newspaper online.

The design resulted in a cost of around $0.30 per sheet, but the researchers say that price can likely be reduced through large-scale production. The researchers acknowledge more works needs to be done, but added, "We believe this illuminates one possible approach for achieving low-cost, interactive, paper-based experiences in the future."

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