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Power Cords re Turned into Gadget Interfaces by MIT Inventors

We’re still a ways away from a totally wireless world. As it stands, cables are still the fastest, most efficient way to transmit data and electricity.

In a project called Cord UIs, Phillip Schoessler of MIT’s Tangible Media Group and Sang-won Leigh of Fluid Interfaces (the team that brought us THAW) is exploring how we can transform pesky cables into responsive interfaces. If we have to use cords, the thinking goes, why not make them useful?


The cables attached to your devices are a lot like a hose; electricity and data flow through them, like water. And just as you can bend and kink a hose to change how that water flows, the same thinking can be applied to cords.

The first example uses knots to dictate interaction. A cord embedded with a bend sensor can control the color and brightness of a light by constricting or expanding the flow of data. The tighter you squeeze the knot, the dimmer the light gets. If you were to move the knot’s position on the cord, you could theoretically control another variable, like color. “For instance, three knots could represent the red, green, or blue value of an RGB-LED lamp, respectively,” they write.

In another prototype, you watch as a pinched headphone cord turns music on and off via a capacitive sensor. It’s a little like the button you might already have on your headphones that controls volume and playback, but there’s a subtle advantage to embedding interaction into the entire cable: You don’t have to think about where you’re touching. “It’s about how much mental effort you to need to spend on interaction,” Leigh says. A similar example, harnessing the power of pressure, shows a computer being put to sleep by dropping a book on its power cord.

Using a micro controller and a cable that detects electric currents, they designed an interaction that turned the cord into a power switch. Kink the cable and the light turns on, do it again and the light turns off.


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1 Response

  1. March 23, 2015

    […] We’re still a ways away from a totally wireless world. As it stands, cables are still the fastest, most efficient way to transmit data and electricity.  […]

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