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Paper Joins the Internet of Things

A ubiquitous office and school supply has just gotten a technical upgrade. A team of researchers from the University of Washington, Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University have given paper sensing abilities so that just like modern devices, items made from paper can respond to swipes and taps and connect to the digital world.

The new “PaperID” method uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags so that people can turn their paper airplanes, cards, and other creations into interactive gadgets. Off-the-shelf RFID tags cost about ten cents each and can be stuck on, printed using silver nanoparticle inks, or drawn on the paper with a conductive pen. A nearby reader uses an antenna to pick up each tag’s unique identification. Then, when a person’s hand waves, touches, swipes or covers a tag, it disturbs the signal path between a tag and its reader. Algorithms can recognize the specific movements and then classify a signal interruption as a specific command. Hanchuan Li, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington and lead author of a research paper about PaperID explained in a press release:

These little tags, by applying our signal processing and machine learning algorithms, can be turned into a multi-gesture sensor. Our research is pushing the boundaries of using commodity hardware to do something it wasn’t able to do before.

The researchers developed a handful of specific ways that users can interact with RFID-enabled paper: wave, swipe, finger touch, cover touch, free air tag motion, slider, and knob. They designed the basic building blocks, but there are endless ways to use PaperID, and the same method could also be applied to different materials for even more options. The researchers specifically chose paper to demonstrate the concept because it is common, flexible, and recyclable.

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Alanson Sample, a researcher scientist at Disney Research (who, incidentally is also behind this tagless RFID system), said:

Ultimately, these techniques can be extended beyond paper to a wide range of materials and usage scenarios. What’s exciting is that PaperID provides a new way to link the real and virtual worlds through low cost and ubiquitous gesture interfaces.

The researchers presented their work on May 12 at the Association for Computing Machinery’s CHI 2016 conference in San Jose, California.

Source: University of Washington | Photos by Eric Brockmeyer/Disney Research

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