Skip to main content

This spray paint lets you turn on your lights or change the TV channel with a touch

Imagine a world with no remote controls. No thermostats. No light switches. 

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory did just that … and came up with a way to spray paint user interfaces onto everyday objects. 

MIT researchers developed “SprayableTech,” which allows users to customize and create room-sized interfaces and displays by airbrushing conductive inks onto otherwise rough surfaces.

For example, if you have a brown couch and want to use the couch itself as a remote for a television, you’d spray the conductive ink in a transparent color to embed it with connected sensors. A microcontroller is then attached to the interface and to the board that runs the code for sensing the visual output.

This way you can swipe your hand over the arm of the couch to change the channel, turn up the volume, or do whatever you’d like. 

“Since SprayableTech is so flexible in its application, you can imagine using this type of system beyond walls and surfaces to power larger-scale entities like interactive smart cities and interactive architecture in public places,” said Michael Wessely, a researcher at MIT. “We view this as a tool that will allow humans to interact with and use their environment in newfound ways.”


The technology doesn’t have to be confined to furniture, either.

MIT researchers also created a 3D toolkit, where users can design their own digital objects and customize them based on proximity sensors, touch buttons, sliders, and electroluminescent displays. For example, if you wanted to control the lights of a building by designing a rainbow that lights up red, orange, and yellow as you wave your hand over each hue, you could use the toolkit to develop a stencil that can easily be sprayed in the same pattern with conductive ink corresponding with each color. 

The team tested a variety of different uses for the SprayableTech, including a musical interface on a concrete pillar and a light post with a touchable display that provides audible information on local attractions and public transportation options. 

The hope of this new technology is to build more user-friendly interfaces within public spaces — abandoning the rather large glass wall displays with quick-shifting images commonly seen in pop culture and sci-fi films like Iron Man, The Matrix Reloaded, and Mission: Impossible 4

“In the future, we aim to collaborate with graffiti artists and architects to explore the future potential for large-scale user interfaces in enabling the internet of things for smart cities and interactive homes,” said Wessely.

Editors' Recommendations

Meira Gebel
Meira Gebel is a freelance reporter based in Portland. She writes about tech, social media, and internet culture for Digital…
Robot crushes man to death after mistaking him for a box
A smart factory concept.

A robot crushed a man to death after apparently mistaking him for a box, South Korean media reported.

The tragedy occurred on Wednesday evening local time at a vegetable sorting facility in South Gyeongsang province about 150 miles south of Seoul, according to the BBC.

Read more
Amazon expands Fresh grocery delivery for non-Prime members
A person delivery an Amazon Fresh order to a customer's home.

Amazon is expanding its Fresh grocery deliveries to non-Prime members nationwide.

The company started offering the service to non-Prime members in 12 cities in August, but on Thursday, Amazon said it was expanding to locations across the country.

Read more
UFC PPV: How much is the UFC 295 PPV?
A UFC championship belt sitting on a table.

MMA fans are getting treated to a big UFC event tomorrow: UFC 295, which will see Jiří Procházka take on Alex Pereira, and since it's a pay-per-view, you'll need to hand over some cash to tune in. ESPN+ is the only outlet for streaming live UFC pay-per-view events like these in the United States, so if you're looking for a way to enjoy all the action online, read on. We've got everything you need to know about UFC pay-per-views on ESPN+, including how to sign up, how much it costs, and how you can save.

ESPN+ is a premium streaming service for all things sports, from MMA and boxing to soccer and much, much more. Since launching its streaming platform in 2018, ESPN has continued to develop a very close relationship with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and in 2023, ESPN+ is the go-to app for streaming UFC content. It's also the only outlet where you can watch UFC pay-per-view events online. ESPN+ is compatible with virtually all modern PC web browsers and streaming-capable devices, which includes smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles.

Read more