Cambridge firm shows printable Bluetooth keyboard at CES

Novalia printed keyboard

Novalia printed keyboard

Nordic Semiconductor has announced that Cambridge-based startup, Novalia has developed a low-cost, patented manufacturing technology using standard print processes combined with capacitive touch technology and an embedded Bluetooth low energy system-on-chip (SoC).

A demo application of the technology to be displayed at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at Las Vegas in January comprises a fully-functioning QWERTY keyboard printed with conductive ink on a regular sheet of A4-sized photo paper (11.7 x 8.3-inch) that weighs just 30g (not including batteries).

“All of the above demos can be achieved with an electronics control module as thin as 2mm in thickness and support an X-Y printed touch-pad as thin as 50-microns,” said Novalia CEO, Dr. Kate Stone.

A 4.7 x 1.0-inch(120 x 25mm) control module with battery (2 x CR2016 watch batteries) and electronics housing is just 0.08-inches (2mm) deep, while the keyboard area, according to Novalia, can be as thin as 50-microns (0.005mm).

Novalia says that this is about 10x thinner than any other keyboard ever produced and can be printed at 100 meters-per-minute on a standard print press.

“The really clever bit, however, is being able to literally print touch sensors, with no metallic wiring, using local existing print processes anywhere in the world, and so at very low cost,” said Stone.

The QWERTY keyboard keys are printed on a regular sheet of 70gsm A4-sized paper layered upon a 20×8, X-Y touch matrix substrate printed on the photo paper that can be re-configured in software to represent any language or indeed other user or developer-assigned functionality.

Nordic’s nRF51822 ARM Cortex-M0 based processor is embedded in the keyboard to control the capacitive touch side of the application, and has a battery life of 9 months for a single CR2032.

A simpler version of this keyboard has already been developed by Novalia. Called ‘Switchboard’, it comprises eight capacitive touch buttons printed onto an ultra light-weight (28g including a single CR2032 battery) piece of U.K. A5-sized printed paper mounted on foam card that can be configured to control (or be controlled by) apps running on any Bluetooth v4.0 enabled iOS device.

A free demo app from Novalia used in conjunction with the Switchboard, as an illustrative example, can conduct an 8-piece Jazz or Latin music band (audio being replayed through a smartphone or tablet), control iTunes (play, pause, skip, +/- volume), select up to eight specific tracks from an iTunes playlist, and even send Tweets.

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