Most aspects of modern life revolve around information and communication. Today, multiple users interact with multiple machines to form complex computational networks. Through simplified physical interfaces, the Internet of Things (IoT) can offer users better understanding and control of data.
Now the foundation of digital augmentation is in the hands of billions of people thanks to their first IoT device: a smartphone. But the future will not only see humans and machines to communicate; also everyday objects will continuously exchange information with their environment and assist us in daily life. Currently we are experiencing a transition from the connectivity of people and machines to the connectivity of objects.
Accordingly, the main objective of Smart@Surface is the development of smooth and seamless objects surfaces made of leather, stone, wood, or plastic, being smart in the sense of providing versatile functions embedded in an appealing design.
IoT enables upcoming societal trends like smart city, smart living, connected home and autonomous driving, just to name a few and it is based on three pillars: connected people (and machines), connected space (and the data cloud) and connected objects. While connectivity of people and space already affects our life day-to-day, the connectivity of objects is still in its infancy. Here a connected object is considered to be an object, that is smart, one that senses, thinks, and acts. With the IoT wave objects’ surfaces will gain fresh importance; since surfaces form the gateway to the world, smart object’s surfaces have to fulfil increasingly ambitious requirements not only regarding shape, appearance and haptic properties, but also regarding functionality - surfaces themselves will become smart.
Smart@Surface is picking up this topic by developing object surfaces that are active and even interactive, surfaces that monitor and react on external stimuli such as touch, pressure, strain and proximity. Smart@Surface will give objects a sensitive skin for detecting human motion and vital parameters such as heart rate and breathing frequency. This smart skin, made of diverse materials such as leather, stone, wood or foil, will form a seamless and neat surface supporting intuitive interaction with humans supported by localized, reconfigurable haptic and visual feedback.
As can be seen in the overview, the pioneering approach of Smart@Surface for realizing quickly reconfigurable objects is to integrate all functionalities on 2D flexible or even extensible (stretchable) substrates by printing, nanoimprinting, pick & place and lamination and subsequently redefine these 2D functionalized substrates into the designed 3D shape by high pressure forming and injection molding. The functions include printed ultrathin multi-parameter sensors of various architectures for pressure, touch, strain, proximity and vital parameter monitoring, printed haptic feedback elements for intuitive interaction by pressure-sensitive touch with localized vibrotactile and force-feedback, ultrathin light guiding films based on LEDs and advanced waveguides for uniform backlighting of input or decoration elements on 3D plastic surfaces and backlighting of curved leather, stone and wood structures. Thus the object design requirements are combined from the very beginning with the specified functionality without the need for additional component assembly.
The ongoing penetration of electronics in everyday objects has a strong impact on various future products (e.g. automotive interior, furniture, sports equipment, optical instruments, appliances, luminaires and consumer goods). Smart@Surface picks up this challenge by combining innovative researchers, creative technology developers and visionary end users. Smart@Surface covers the whole value chain from design, simulation and modelling, material and device development, over innovative production technologies which are combined by heterogeneous integration into smart objects with user-friendly, multi-parameter sensing, interactive surfaces.