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Cheap tags add paper to the Internet of Things

In this example, the speed of the spinning tag on the pinwheel is mapped to onscreen graphics. (Credit: Eric Brockmeyer/Disney Research)

Scientists have figured out how to give a piece of paper sensing capabilities that let it respond to gesture commands and connect to the digital world.

The method relies on small radio frequency (RFID) tags that are stuck, printed, or drawn onto the paper to create interactive, lightweight interfaces that can do anything from controlling music using a paper baton to live-polling in a classroom.

“A piece of paper is still by far one of the most ubiquitous mediums. If RFID tags can make interfaces as simple, flexible, and cheap as paper, it makes good sense to deploy those tags anywhere,” says lead author Hanchuan Li, a doctoral student in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington.
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The technology—PaperID—leverages inexpensive, off-the-shelf RFID tags, which function without batteries. A reader device placed in the same room can detect the tags. Each tag has a unique identification, so a reader’s antenna can pick out an individual among many. These tags only cost about 10 cents each and can be stuck onto paper. Alternatively, the simple pattern of a tag’s antenna can also be drawn on paper with conductive ink.

When a person’s hand waves, touches, swipes, or covers a tag, the hand disturbs the signal path between an individual tag and its reader. Algorithms can recognize the specific movements, then classify a signal interruption as a specific command. For example, swiping a hand over a tag placed on a pop-up book might cause the book to play a specific, programmed sound.

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

The researchers developed different interaction methods to adapt RFID tags depending on the type of interaction that the user wants to achieve. For example, a simple sticker tag works well for an on/off button command, while multiple tags drawn side-by-side on paper in an array or circle can serve as sliders and knobs.

“The interesting aspect of PaperID is that it leverages commodity RFID technology thereby expanding the use cases for RFID in general and allowing researchers to prototype these kind of interactive systems without having to build custom hardware,” says Shwetak Patel, professor in computer science & engineering and electrical engineering.

They also can track the velocity of objects in movement, such as following the motion of a tagged paper conductor’s wand and adjusting the pace of the music based on the tempo of the wand in mid-air.

paper wand
(Credit: Eric Brockmeyer/Disney Research)

This technique can be used on media other than paper to enable gesture-based sensing capabilities. The researchers chose to demonstrate on paper in part because it’s ubiquitous, flexible, and recyclable, fitting their goal of creating simple, cost-effective interfaces that can be made quickly on demand for small tasks.

“Ultimately, these techniques can be extended beyond paper to a wide range of materials and usage scenarios,” says Alanson Sample, research scientist at Disney Research. “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 will present their work May 12 at the Association for Computing Machinery’s CHI 2016 conference in San Jose, California.

Researchers from Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University also contributed to the study. The University of Washington Disney Research funded the work.

Source: University of Washington