Paper is usually made for writing, drawing, or sometimes origami. But over time, paper has become so much more than for writing and art. Recently, engineers from Purdue University have developed a printing process that turns an ordinary piece of paper into a self-powered, Bluetooth-connected, interactive, wireless keyboard.

From Paper to Keyboard

The engineers created a unique printing process that renders any paper or cardboard into a keyboard that is oil, dust, and water-repellant coated in highly fluorinated molecules. According to the university's press release, this omniphobic solution prints multiple layers of circuits on the paper without smearing the ink.

Moreover, these "triboelectric" areas of the keyboard generate electricity when friction is present. That means every time a key is pressed, energy is also produced. In that sense, the paper-based keyboard becomes a self-powered tablet.

According to a preprint study published in the scientific journal Nano Energy, the triboelectric areas are used to relay Bluetooth wireless communication just as ordinary keyboards relay letters or numbers to a computer.

One of the authors, Ramses Martinez, said that the printed device could operate without using a battery. This is the first self-powered, paper-based device created.

The novel technology is inexpensive to use as it can be applied to an ordinary paper or cardboard or any-paper-based surface. The engineers hope that this innovation can be used in many different industries in the future.

In a press release, Martinez envisions this new technology to facilitate user interaction with food packaging so that consumers would be able to verify if it is safe to consume. Another use may enable users to sign a package when it arrives by dragging their finger on the box to identify themselves as the owner.

READ: New Technology Allows Scientists to Reproduce Famous Painting Using Light

Playing music from the paper

Aside from letters and numbers, the engineers have also demonstrated that the paper-based keyboard can be transformed into a music player in which users can use to choose and play their song choice and change the volume, Martinez says.

In one of the three video demonstrations they released, the team showed that they printed triboelectric generators of a forward, back, mute, and volume bar on the back of a paper. A person controls the audio by dragging the volume bar with his finger, as well as pressing the forward and back buttons on the paper to skip or go to back to music.

But this is not the first time that paper is used in electronics. Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Missouri created a paper-and-pencil medical wearable that monitors heart rate, glucose levels, respiratory rate, body temperature, and sweat.

Nonetheless, Purdue's new innovation eliminates the need for an external power source and makes smart packaging closer to reality. It would probably be a while now that people can print their own Bluetooth paper-based keyboard.

READ MORE: Nanotechnology Turns House Bricks Into Batteries Paving Way to Becoming Literal Powerhouses in the Future

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