Researchers have developed “smart” table fabrics that can identify items placed on top of them

Imagine that in the future your tablecloths could remind you of the whereabouts of your items or track your diet,media New Atlas reported. With Dartmouth College in New Hampshire developing a new “smart” fabric, something similar could happen soon. The experimental textile, called Capacitivo, consists of a cotton substrate with a flexible mesh of diamond electrodes that are heat-transmitted to the substrate.

When a non-metallic object, such as a piece of fruit, is placed on a fabric, the unique electric field of the item affects the capacitance of the electrode in a unique way. Variables such as the material of an item, as well as its shape and size, determine the nature of its electric field and thus the change in capacitance.

Machine learning-based algorithms on a computer analyze this change and compare it to other changes it is taught to associate with a particular item. If there is a match, the system can determine what the item is. In the current tests, it has been shown to be 94.5% accurate in identifying 20 items, such as various fruits, kitchenware, plastic appliances, different types of liquids in containers, and different amounts of water in bowls.

However, it does require objects to leave a fairly strong “mark” on the fabric — it is not so reliable in identifying lightweight objects such as credit cards. In addition to the examples mentioned earlier, Capacitivo technology could one day be used in applications such as reminding people when potted plants need watering, or instructing them to choose ingredients for their recipes.

“Being able to perceive non-metallic objects is a breakthrough in smart fabrics because it allows users to interact with everyday items in new ways.” Wu Deren, a doctoral student and head of the study, said.

The research was conducted in collaboration with Microsoft Research and was recently demonstrated through an online ACM user interface software and technology workshop.