Reflecting on Printed Electronics

This is a reading summary and critique of the article Printed Electronics for Human-Computer Interaction, by Jürgen Steimle.

Printed Electronics for Human-Computer Interaction addresses the foreseeable future of electronics: the ability to print circuits and conductive surfaces quickly, efficiently, and creatively. This technology is situated as a maker’s dream and an industry’s tipping point.

This method offers the opportunity for flexible tech, which bends (physically and metaphorically) to the maker’s vision.

DREAM. Putting the development and evolution of technologies in the hands of consumers is important, but not always the priority. Accessibility to groundbreaking technologies can be met with high costs and specialized training, limiting the audience or prolonging wide adoption. With a standard printer, a few sheets of photo paper, and an idea, anyone can print a circuit or a conductive surface. This method offers the opportunity for flexible tech, which bends (physically and metaphorically) to the maker’s vision and the solution’s need. With this technology, the possibilities are endless and could have a profound impact on maker spaces around the world.

TIPPING POINT. For starters, this technology can open the door for flexible displays, fundamentally changing the way we understand physical devices. If aluminum frames and solid structures didn’t bind our mobile devices, what would consumers say about their wants, needs, and expectations of their technology? If it isn’t a tablet-sized smart phone with a kickstand, maybe it’s a flexible display embedded in a jacket. Of course, there is a huge assumption that our current access to and understanding of technology informs our expectations. If you asked commuters in the 1800s what they needed, they’d say a faster horse. Innovation thrives in the presence of this tension.

I have a lot of conversations about the future of technology, ranging from active discussions to idle small talk. In every conversation, I assert the same opinion: the future of technology should carefully consider what it means to be bombarded with devices. At what point will we stop thinking as consumerists and evaluate the meaningful differences between tablets, cell-phones, laptops, etc. What would it mean to have one powerful device that offered flexibility to scale based on your needs, no matter how big or small? How can we create a seamless ecosystem that doesn’t rely on device upgrades and brand-loyalty?

Printed electronics are a potential goldmine, expanding the realm of possibilities. If done carefully, this disruptive technology can be massively beneficial, creating innovative technologies, introducing meaningful products, and solving intricate problems. If done poorly, we could have another line of devices to add to the collection; more clutter. I hope the makers and industry-shapers leverage printed electronics right.