Interactive digital tiles turn bedroom walls into cinema screens

30 October 2018

Credit: Photonics21

A team of European scientists have developed a set of digital, ceramic tiles that can change colour, pattern, and play videos with a connected smartphone or tablet – essentially turning a bedroom wall or ceiling into a giant cinema screen.

Anyone who has ever wanted a quick solution to redecorating their room, or is simply interested in a novel approach to installing a home cinema system, will likely be interested in this smart ceramic tile technology.

Using photonics technology, The 'Luminous Electronic Tile', or LUMENTILE, project mixes the simplicity of a plain ceramic tile with sophisticated touchscreen technology to create a light source and unparalleled interaction. All it takes is one tap to change the colour, look or mood of any room in your house.

The luminous tile is a combination of ceramic, glass and organic electronics, and it includes structural materials, solid-state light sources and electronic chips; it can be controlled with a central computer, a smart phone or tablet.

This is the first time that anyone has tried to embed electronics and photonics into ceramics or glass for a large-scale application. With the ability to play videos or display images, the tiles allow the user to turn their walls into what is essentially a large cinema screen, where each A4-sized unit acts as a pixel of the overall display.

Project coordinator, Professor Guido Giuliani of the University of Pavia explains: “This is not just a digital panel to replace an animated poster like you see on the Underground network, but a whole new way of life.

“You are instantly in control of your own environment: if you don’t like your bathroom in blue, now you can change it to green with one tap. If you like flowery wallpaper, ducks or Christmas trees, that’s up to you.”

Each measuring the size of a standard, rectangular A4 piece of paper with their own internal power source, the tiles can be tailored entirely to the customer’s needs: consider the complete or partial covering of the walls of a room, a floor, ceiling – or perhaps even total submersion are all possible. So long as the pieces tessellate, any shapes will be possible, such as hexagonal or triangular ceramic tiles.

The tiles, which can be switched off so that a basic silver, black or white colour can be a default setting, are equipped with an on-board microcontroller, and operate on a lexical network that is invisible to the user.

The surface of each tile has uniform and efficient illumination, achieved by LUMENTILE’s smart light management system: a new approach based on a light guiding slab and spatially-selective light extraction.

Credit: Photonics21

Smart floors

With the ability to configure the tiles to become ‘smart floor panels’ whose pressure sensors recognise when an elderly user is no longer standing or has perhaps fallen, or in security situations where a floor will be sensitive to intruders, the tiles have the capacity to act as a ‘smart’ floor.

“When arranged into a smart floor setting,” Giuliani said, “LUMENTILE has the capability to form dynamic paths. The main applications of the LUMENTILE product are in public spaces, for example by creating luminous, interactive floors that create automatic guiding paths.

“In shopping centres or airports for example, if a customer needs directing to a store or terminal, they can follow an illuminated walkway.”

Exterior ‘chameleonic skin’

With its durable nature, the luminous ceramic tile could be used externally: placing it on the outside of a building creates the obvious potential for advertising or changing the colour or appearance. However, the tiles can be flat or curved to fit around columns or uneven contours.

Military vehicles, as a further example, that are fitted with this external ‘skin’ – crossing a variety of terrains, such as woodland, desert or water – would be capable of unlimited camouflage at the flick of a switch.

Giuliana summarises: “It may sound like the stuff of James Bond, but external tiles would create a ‘chameleonic skin’, or instant camouflage. Although we are a long way off this yet, this would allow a car or building to blend completely into its surroundings – and hence ‘disappear’.”

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