It looks like something straight out of a children’s activity book. You trace a tube of puff paint-like ink through a maze of lines, and then you rip apart a few perforated paper sections. A few patient minutes later, you don’t just have a work of art–you have a working lamp.
This is the latest kit from Bare Conductive, the manufacturer of what the company dubs Electric Paint. Originally released in 2015, you can apply it like any water-based paint to just about any material you like. But once you do, the black strokes conduct electricity. That means they can work just like wires, or even sensors, for any maker project you could dream of.
The paint has a been a hit since its original release, but the question for many people still remains: What can you actually make with the stuff? “From what we’ve seen, most of our customers are enthusiastic about the idea of conductive paint, but need a framework within which they can experiment, test, and play,” says CEO Matt Johnson.
That’s the idea behind the company’s new Electric Lamp Paint Kit, which is launching on Kickstarter today. Starting at about $36, it’s a paper and paint craft set that lets you create three intricate lamps out of these simple materials. One turns on with a tap of the black ink. Another features a radial ink dimmer. And the third will light up in response to the proximity of your hand.
For Bare Conductive, which is currently in talks with companies like Ikea to bring its paint to the manufacturing process of all sorts of connected products, a Kickstarter campaign might seem like a step backward. But this consumer side of the business is equally important to its future, insists Johnson.
“By giving people the opportunity to make a magical paper lamp you introduce them to the technology in a seamless way, but you also introduce them to the transformative ability to apply interaction and intelligence to almost any surface, space, or material,” says Johnson. “Our largest vision is that our technology can be incorporated into products and materials at the point of manufacture, making it possible to add intelligence to almost anything. . . . We’ll get there by maintaining our community-based approach, which is a dramatically different approach to development than our other printed electronics colleagues. We believe that engaging with a community of developers is the best way to discover the transformative nature of the technology.”
It’s a view that is, perhaps, a bit on the naive side. These paper lamps, as charming as they are, are still worlds apart from Ikea using, say, a 3D printer to squirt conductive inks onto the back of light-up, internet-connected dressers. But Bare Conductive may be on the right track. For its groundswell approach to work, it needs to bridge the gap between the maker and the Pinterest crafter. It needs to get everyone so interested in these gadgety home improvement projects that we’ll all want to buy them, and as a result, Ikea and others will have to sell them.
That means forget selling to the geeks and sell to us basics on smart scented candles and connected mobiles for the nursery. Give us an LED sign that says “EAT” in our kitchen and “love, laugh, live” in our living room, and watch all that HGTV money come pouring in. Can a smart paper lamp pull off that feat? It’s certainly worth a try.