Augmented cables let you cut off power with a pinch

Usually when a cable needs to be bent or adjusted to work properly it’s time to get a replacement. But researchers from MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group have created five prototype cables so users can adjust power flow and adjust data variables by pinching, stretching, bending and tying knots in them. Named Cord UI, the aim of the technology is to make controlling devices more seamless and intuitive.

A simple comparison of the technology is how the flow of water can be changed by making knots or bends in a hose. The cable prototypes created by the Fluid Interfaces team, fitted with microcontrollers and a range of sensors or pressure sensitive materials, have been demonstrated achieving several different goals.

With power flow, they show a light that can be dimmed or switched off by creating a knot in a wire that is fitted with a bend sensor. In another example, they turned a whole cable into a switch by using piezo copolymer wire. Power can be switched off and on with a quick bend of the cable, or even stepping on it.

Examples also included changing parameters in connected devices. In the case of headphones fitted with a conductive thread, sound on an iPod could be muted or paused with a quick pinch of the cable. By clamping or placing an object on a laptop cable fitted with a pressure sensitive polymer, the device could be put into sleep mode until the object is removed. Using a stretchable cord with a fitted sensor, external hard drives could be quickly and easily ejected from a computer with a stretch of the cable. Researchers also predicted the colour of a light could also be changed depending on how many knots that are placed in its cable.

The researchers admitted there were still challenges to overcome before we see Cord UIs in everyday devices, but they hoped it would inspire product designers to fit cords with sensors to create new interaction and design possibilities.

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