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New digital tiles to make buildings invisible

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Using new photonics technology, a team of European scientists are developing a set of digital, smart ceramic tiles that can change colour, pattern, or play videos at the flick of a switch and when fitted externally can turn a wall into a giant screen, allowing a building to melt into its surroundings.

Ever wanted to make your living room look like the inside of an art gallery, a Stone Age hut or Buckingham Palace? Have you wanted to redecorate your bedroom every day of the week, or watch films on your ceiling? Now you can, thanks to this digital ceramic smart panel created by European scientists.

Using pioneering photonics technology, The ‘Luminous Electronic Tile’, or LUMENTILE, project mixes the simplicity of a plain ceramic tile with the complexity of today’s sophisticated touch screen technology, creating a light source and unparalleled interaction. All it takes is one tap to change the colour, look or mood of any room in your house.

This is the first time anyone has tried to embed electronics into ceramics or glass for a large-scale application. With the ability to play videos or display images, the tiles allow the user to turn their walls into a large ‘cinema’ screen, where each unit acts as a set of pixels of the overall display.

A combination of ceramic, glass and organic electronics, the luminous tile includes structural materials, solid-state light sources and electronic chips and can be controlled with a central computer, a smart phone or tablet. Project coordinator, Professor Guido Giuliani of the University of Pavia explains:

“This is not just a digital panel to replace an animated poster like you see on the Underground network, but a whole new way of life. You are instantly in control of your own environment: if you don’t like your bathroom in blue, now you can change it to green with one tap. If you like flowery wallpaper, ducks or Christmas trees, that’s up to you.”

Each measuring the size of a standard, rectangular A3 piece of paper with their own internal power source, the tiles can be tailored entirely to the customer’s needs: completely or partially covering the walls of a room, a floor, ceiling, or perhaps total submersion. So long as the pieces tessellate, any shapes will be possible such as hexagonal or triangular ceramic tiles.

The tiles, which can be switched off so that a basic silver, black or white colour can be a default setting, are equipped with an on board micro-controller, and operate on a lexical network invisible to the user. The surface of each tile has uniform and efficient illumination, achieved by LUMENTILE’s smart light management system, a new approach based on a light guiding slab and spatially selective light extraction.

Exterior ‘Chameleonic Skin’

With its durable nature, the luminous ceramic tile holds boundless possibilities: placing it on the outside of a building creates the obvious potential for advertising or changing the colour or appearance. However the tiles can be flat or curved to fit around columns or uneven contours.

Military vehicles, for example, fitted with this external ‘skin’ crossing a variety of terrains, such as woodland, desert or water would be capable of unlimited camouflage at the flick of a switch.

“It may sound like the stuff of James Bond but external tiles would create a ‘chameleonic skin’, or instant camouflage. Although we are a long way off this yet, this would allow a car or building to blend completely into its surroundings, and hence ‘disappear’,” Giuliani enthused.

Smart Floors

With the ability to configure the tiles to become ‘smart floor panels’ that recognise when an elderly user is no longer standing or has perhaps fallen, in security situations where a floor will be sensitive to intruders, or in shopping centres where a ‘dynamic path’ can be created to direct shoppers to a particular store, the LUMENTILE product is more than just a light source.

Earlier this year LUMENTILE received a grant of € 2,470,113.75 from Horizon 2020 via the Photonics Public Private Partnership. Hoping to be available to users in two years the LUMENTILE project aims at mass production by the end of 2020.

Coordinated in Italy by UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI PAVIA, LUMENTILE is comprised of a number of partners from Finland, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, including TEKNOLOGIAN TUTKIMUSKESKUS VTT (Finland), ECLEXYS SAGL (Switzerland), JULIGHT SRL, KERAPLAN SRL (Italy), STUDIO ITINERANTE ARQUITECTURA SL, KNOWLEDGE INNOVATION MARKET S.L. (Spain).

Video of self-configuration of the tiles https://youtu.be/j7xc89jjJpY?t=28

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