Embedded Electronics Bring Pop-Up Books to Life

Move over Kindle, there’s a new type of electronic book on the scene – and this one’s got pop-ups.

The Electronic Popable book, developed by the High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, has electronic circuitry embedded in its pages that transforms the tabs, flaps and wheels of a traditional pop-up into switches and a variety of sensors.

The interactive pages come alive with LED lights, sounds and even vibrate in response to touch.

Venus fly traps spring up invitingly from one page; sensors in the trap’s jaws respond to the user’s touch, gently closing around the probing finger as it withdraws. The sensors control the amount of electric current flowing through springs in the leaf. The springs are made of the shape memory alloy nickel-titanium and contract to close the leaf shut as their coils are heated by the current. The leaves reopen as the wire cools.

Conductive paints

To create the pages for the book, mechanical engineer Jie Qi and Lab director Leah Buechley used off-the-shelf electrically conductive paints and fabrics, adding custom-made magnetic components programmed using a standard integrated circuit, known as a microcontroller. “The innovation was in finding new uses for these easily available materials,” Qi says.

With this book they have achieved the perfect balance between technique and aesthetics, says Sally Rosenthal, pop-up collector and executive producer of Between the Folds, a documentary film on origami. “The Electronic Popable stands out as a compelling example of the oneness of science and art.”

Paper computing

Aside from its artistic impact, this experiment in paper computing offers a neat lesson in engineering design. “Lines you draw with something like silver paint could be both functional and decorative,” Qi points out.

Conductive paints could help readers learn about electronics, providing a functional and illustrative example on the page, Qi says. The group plans to explore how the craft material can be used to build circuits and serve as a learning tool.

This battery-operated pop-up book will be presented at the Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interfaces conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, next week.