Engineers at Purdue University unveiled a printing technology that turns any ordinary sheet of paper to a self-powered, Bluetooth-connected, wireless, and interactive keyboard.

Paper to Wireless Keyboard: How it works

First, an ordinary sheet of paper is coated with neon-green, omniphobic solution of “highly fluorinated molecules” which makes the paper oil, dust, and water-repellant. Then multiple layers of circuits are printed on the paper without smudging the ink from one layer to the next one. On the other side of the paper, a typical representation of num-pad, alphabetical keyboard, volume controls, or even piano keys or any design you want is printed, called as “triboelectric” areas.

These “triboelectric” areas of the keyboard generate electricity on friction, more specifically, 300 μW/cm of power. This means every time a key is pressed on the paper, energy is produced. Hence, a self-powered paper keyboard, that requires no batteries or cables to transfer signals over Bluetooth connection to any connected device, a laptop, or a smartphone, for example. This self-powered technology that converts harvested mechanical energy to electricity is known as a triboelectric nanogenerator or TENG device, first demonstrated in Prof. Zhong Lin Wang‘s group at Georgia Institute of Technology in the year of 2012.

“This is the first time that a self-generating electrical device has been demonstrated,” said Ramses Martinez, an associate professor at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Purdue. 

This innovation, which costs a mere $0.25 each device to produce, sure can benefit different industries in the future if brought in life. The inventors at Purdue University see this to be more practical in the smart-packaging industry.

“I envision this technology to facilitate the user interaction with food packaging, to verify if the food is safe to be consumed, or enabling users to sign the package that arrives at home by dragging their finger over the box to properly identify themselves as the owner of the package,” says Martinez. “Additionally, our group demonstrated that simple paper sheets from a notebook can be transformed into music player interfaces for users to choose songs, play them, and change their volume.”

While this piece of tech does sound more fun to use, it won’t be any time soon we will be seeing people carrying these ready-to-use foldable paper keyboards in their back pockets. However, just make sure before you crumple a piece of paper and toss it in the trash, it could very well be your next keyboard.