Written by Alain de Leonardis • Photography by Jim Ren / Staff, Getty • December 19, 2016
A portable Bluetooth DJ controller printed on a pizza box? Though it sounds crazy, this is one of several trial runs for a new wave of “printed electronics.”
Printed electronics feature state-of-the-art inks made with graphene, an electrically conductive carbon nanomaterial. This can give paper, cloth and other disposable and wearable materials electronic capabilities. The digital world now has potential to intersect with physical things in ways we have yet to even conceive.
Graphene is engineered from a sheet of carbon just one atom thick, making it the thinnest—and strongest—material ever created. Dubbed the “miracle material,” graphene has countless potential applications, from next-generation batteries to artificial muscles.
Printing is made possible when you suspend graphene in a liquid solution, mix it with special ink and load it into a conventional printing press. The result is a sheet of paper so sophisticated that it would make Gutenberg’s head explode.
The pizza box is the brainchild of Novalia, a Cambridge-based company on the cutting edge of printed electronics. The British firm also teamed up with legendary American turntablist DJ Qbert to create a similar controller for his 2014 album, Extraterrestria.
Novalia’s founder, Dr. Kate Stone, made a statement about the importance of building bridges between digital and physical: “We believe the future will look more like the past than the present, where beautiful old-school things we love and are nostalgic about will not die, as many have said. We hope to breathe life into things like books and album covers, keeping the creativity in physical products alive.”
For music artists and fans, this could add a new dimension of possibilities to merchandise, printed tickets, stage production, crowd participation… the list goes on. Use your imagination. What would you print?