PaperPulse stretches the boundaries of paper

PaperPulse augments paper with electronics to create interactive apps, without requiring programming skills

Researchers from iMinds - Hasselt University have developed PaperPulse, a design tool that might very well change how, going forward, we’ll make use of paper – a material that has not been subject to any major revolutions for hundreds of years. PaperPulse stretches the boundaries of paper, enriching it with electronics to create a totally new, interactive experience.

Potential applications include posters that respond to ambient music’s volume levels, interactive city maps or business cards, or even custom-made games that are glued to everyday products such as tissue boxes and that help keeping the kids quiet during a long car ride. The possibilities are endless, and within anyone’s reach, since PaperPulse does not require any electronics or programming skills.

The earliest archaeological traces of paper date back to the second century BC. In the last few hundreds of years no fundamental changes have occurred to the ways in which we use paper. Yet, thanks to recent technological advances, the concept of ‘interactive paper’ – a combination of graphic design and printed electronics – now opens up a whole new world of possibilities: from posters that play songs when you touch a button, to printed magazines that allow you to cast an online vote.

Current tools to design and produce interactive paper are often expensive, cumbersome to use, and require electronics and programming skills. But PaperPulse, a research project conducted by Raf Ramakers, Kashyap Todi and prof. dr. Kris Luyten (three Human Computer Interaction experts from iMinds - Hasselt University), has overcome those issues.

PaperPulse: bringing the creation of interactive paper apps within the reach of virtually anyone

About PaperPulse
After filing a patent related to PaperPulse, the iMinds - EDM - Hasselt University researchers presented their work at CHI 2015 – the premiere conference on Human Computer Interaction, where PaperPulse was very well received. People who want to learn more about PaperPulse can visit the team’s studio installation at SIGGRAPH 2015, the International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, which will be organized in Los Angeles (US) from August 9–13.

“While investigating the possibilities of combining paper with electronics, we came up with PaperPulse: a design tool that automates part of the design, programming and creation of stand-alone interactive paper apps – apps that do not need to be connected to a computer,” says Raf Ramakers, from the Expertise Center for Digital Media (EDM) of iMinds - Hasselt University.

“PaperPulse helps people turn traditional, paper-based designs into interactive applications. It comes with more than 20 interactive components (buttons, sliders, LEDs, microphones, buzzers, etc.) that can smoothly be integrated in paper designs. It also includes a logic specification package, called Pulsation, to easily record the behavior of those components, as well as a simulator for testing the app’s functionalities. Finally, to help assemble the desired application, PaperPulse automatically generates circuits, microcontroller code and assembly instructions. Once the user is satisfied with the design, circuits can be printed using a regular inkjet printer filled with conductive ink; and the electronic components can be manually assembled using special stickers. Thanks to PaperPulse, a degree in electronics or programming is no longer required to create cool interactive paper apps,” Ramakers adds.

Putting PaperPulse to the test: initial user feedback reveals its potential

To test the usability and potential of PaperPulse, an initial user study with a few designers was conducted. One of them, who had no prior experience in programming and electronics, said he was pleasantly surprised and described the whole fabrication process as ‘magic’.

Test users who did have some programming experience reported that they would be able to create interactive paper apps using other tools (such as breadboards and copper tape) as well, but they also noted that this would require more time and skill. Moreover, they thought the result would probably not be as visually pleasing as with PaperPulse.