Researchers from the University of Washington, Disney Research, and Carnegie Mellon University have added sensing capabilities to a piece of paper. Small radio frequency (RFID) tags are placed, printed, or drawn onto the "PaperID" technology to create interactive, lightweight interfaces.

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

“Paper is our inspiration for this technology,” said lead author Hanchuan Li, a UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering. “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.”

The "PaperID," which functions without batteries, can be detected through a reader device placed in the same room as the RFID tags. Each tag has a unique identification, allowing a reader’s antenna to pick out an individual among many.

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. Swiping a hand over a tag placed on a pop-up book, for example, 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 said. “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. A simple sticker tag works well for an on/off button command, for example, while multiple tags drawn side-by-side on paper in an array or circle can serve as sliders and knobs.


Also: Read more Sensors tech briefs.