This Spray Can Make Your Wall a Touchpad

Electrick combines conductive coatings or additives with electrodes and algorithms developed at Carnegie Mellon University. It can create a touchpad on just about any surface—walls, steering wheels, toys—to control lights and other devices.

  • Chris Harrison
  • Age: 33 
  • Director of CMU’s Future Interfaces Group; professor of human-computer interaction
1. Setup

Electrick’s spray primes a surface to better conduct electricity, and low-voltage electrodes placed around the perimeter of the area can register changes in the current caused by touching the surface in a particular spot.

2. Use

Users can control devices by touching the sprayed area. For example, the body of a guitar can become the equivalent of several effects pedals.

Source: Electrick

Harrison began to hone the ideas that led to Electrick while interning at AT&T Labs Inc. in 2006 and 2007. He built the system with doctoral students Yang Zhang and Gierad Laput.


The Future Interfaces Group has been granted about $1.7 million from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Intel, Google, Bosch, and Qualcomm for Electrick and other projects.


Harrison sees potential for Electrick to replace touchscreen controls on car dashboards and to control lighting and entertainment systems when applied to walls in homes.

Next Steps

Electrick has attracted interest from coatings manufacturers and automakers since Harrison’s team presented it at a conference on human-computer interaction in May, but he says commercialization is still years away. Nevertheless, Daniel Ashbrook, a professor who runs an interface lab of his own at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says that objects with touch functionality are the future and Electrick’s is “a supercool approach” he hasn’t seen before.