We live in a world that we increasingly seek to interface with to automate our lives, enhance experiences, provide new conveniences, and more. When it comes to new areas of human-computer interaction, advancement in sensor technology is key; the more slim and flexible a sensor material, the larger range of uses it is likely to have. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon’s Laboratory for Emerging Wireless Technologies (WiTech) have developed a fabric-friendly sensor that can be woven into everyday surfaces and which is made for building up smart environments. Their paper won Best Paper and Best Presentation at the ACM/IEEE Conference at which it was presented.
The sensors — flexible NFC coil antennas — can be embedded in ordinary and even irregular-shaped surfaces like furniture and carpets that we interact with within a smart environment. Collaborating with material scientists to determine appropriate materials for fabrication, the project utilizes wireless system development and signal processing. Known as TextileSense, it tracks objects made of conductive materials like the human hand, even if they are a few centimeters away. A near-field blind beamforming system efficiently detects surrounding objects, and a data-driven approach is used to further infer the locations of objects — in experimental evaluations, TextileSense was able to track the locations of objects of interest within a few tens of centimeters with an accuracy of 3.5 cm.
A demo video below shows off a few use cases for the sensors: wave your hand over the couch to adjust TV volume, tap a cushion to turn lighting on and off, use the data to track objects in the vicinity, or even have the sensors estimate your pose and adjust the surroundings accordingly. Importantly, this proof of concept opens up new applications in device tracking and human body posture sensing. The goal of the lab moving forward is to continue to find ways to integrate the system into everyday life, contributing to building out an overall smart environment.