Is the era of print over? Nothing could be more wrong. The golden age of print has just begun. Though, the meaning of the ‘print’ notion will significantly expand in the next ten years. The reason is simple: printed electronics are entering the mass market right now. An example: Milbox Touch VR cardboard set with touch screen printed with conductive ink that contains silver.
The most basic virtual reality goggles such as Google Cardboard have at least two advantages. Firstly, they are available to almost everyone thanks to the low retail price that should not exceed twenty dollars. Secondly, they are produced and sold as a flat pack. VR goggles made of cardboard are so cheap to produce, yet light and easy to transport, that in November “The New York Times” sent free Google Cardboards to over a million subscribers of the printed edition of this newspaper.
When you assemble the flat cardboard into a three-dimensional box, and then insert a smartphone into the front pocket, open a dedicated app, and experience some virtual reality animations and 360 pictures and videos for the very first time, you must be enrapt how immersive this content is. But at the same time, you feel confused, because cardboard goggles are the exact opposite of the concept of ‘intuitive interface’. To navigate through the menu of VR app, you must hold your eyes for few seconds on virtual buttons. This approach excludes a quick scroll through the virtual environment and makes it impossible to derive pleasure from any game.
Does the cardboard VR headset work only as a disposable sample that encourages users to purchase a much more sophisticated – and much more expensive – VR device from Samsung, Oculus, Sony or HTC? Not necessarily. It could be a full-value product, if only it was integrated with a touch interface. On the other hand, the upgrade can not cause a serious change in the retail price of the hardware.
Even though it seems impossible, Tokyo-based designers from WHITE studio who specialises in IoT and VR projects, have found a way to achieve the above-mentioned goal. Japanese produce cheap touchpads using screen printing and a special conductive ink. Their first project based on this technology is called Milbox Touch.
Mailbox Touch is affordable virtual reality goggles that are integrated, in the contrast to other cardboard models offered by competitors, with a touch user interface. So-called Extension Sticker, the patent-pending technology implemented into this project, was developed at the University of Meiji.
The printed electronic circuit transfers touch commands from the side panel of the cardboard VR goggles to the smartphone. By changing the touching way, it is possible to make various input operations such as tap, scroll and swipe.
In other words: by touching the pattern on right side of the box printed with conductive ink, the user can operate the app displayed on a smartphone that is being closed inside the box, without touching the screen directly.
The conductive ink used in the printing process of the touch panel contains silver particles. Designers from WHITE studio promise to launch the Touch Milbox goggles at an affordable price, but it is worth noticing that the silver-based inks cost £1000 or more per kilogram. The real revolution of printed electronics will begin on a massive scale when the conductive ink will contain graphene instead of precious metals. According to the news published by the EnergyHarvestingJournal.com, the new graphene ink formulation would be 25 times cheaper.
Prototypes of Mailbox Touch headsets and the VR version of the iconic “Packman” game were presented at the Tokyo Design Week festival, which took place in the capital of Japan from 24 October to 3 November this year. In 2016, Mailbox Touch goggles will be available at one of the crowdfunding platforms. If you have any questions regarding this project, you can send them directly to the WHITE studio team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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