This is part of a series giving you an insider’s view of the products coming out of Pittsburgh to change the world.
If the past decade has been about products getting smaller, lighter and wearable, the next decade may introduce products that reverse the trend — surrounding you with digital surfaces to create an overall environment that enhances the way you live and work.
East Liberty-based TouchWood Labs is at the forefront of making that happen by taking ordinary surfaces and giving them, what the company’s CEO Matt Dworman calls “extraordinary capabilities.”
Instead of talking about ordinary computer screens, he says it’s “touch responsive displays beneath the surface of opaque materials. It allows us to transform counters, walls, doors, tables into interactive displays.”
TouchWood can work with natural wood and stone veneers, wall paints and coatings, and even fabrics.
Dworman invited me to his office at AlphaLab to see prototypes of his products.
On his desk was a sample of Corian, which is used in kitchen countertops. Dworman swirled his hands on the surface and it came to life like a touch screen on a tablet computer.
All of a sudden, we had a full-width version of the weather report. Both Dworman and I were able to use this apparently inert material to display a variety of data. It reminded me of a display I saw at the Home of the Future on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington.
A few feet away, a large piece of glass stood about the size of the front panel of a large refrigerator. The entire surface was interactive.
And behind us was a table — looking like concrete — but again, interactive. Touching the surface brought visions of Michael Jackson lighting up the concrete in his “Billy Jean” video to mind.
Dworman says that architects and builders call the thermostats and light switches that are all over your walls, “wall warts,” and that TouchWood’s technology will do away with them so that your environment becomes more flexible both in terms of utility and appearance.
“This is about freedom of design,” says Dworman, “Technology that blends in with my home and disappears when I don’t want to see it, instead of always having this black screen that is always standing out like a sore thumb.”
Instead of those wall warts, you’ll be able to turn your lights on and off from any part of the wall — no more stumbling in the dark to find the switch.
Dworman is working with large companies that are interested in incorporating his technology into their products.
For example, your experiences in restaurants, which have already seen lots of new technologies since the beginning of the pandemic, could become even more immersive. Tables could display menus, allowing you to order and even play games right on the surface as you wait for the table to advise you that your food is ready at the counter.
Know of a product or service being developed in Pittsburgh or by a Pittsburgh-based company that is cool, is creating growth, or will change the world? Let David know via email.