Wallpaper has been around since the 1400s; what began as a cheap alternative to tapestry and wood paneling, has grown into a huge decorative industry. Surprisingly enough, this once purely decorative medium has evolved to serve multiple purposes spanning industries. Sense-stimulating lickable cake wallpaper has been used by the advertising industry to sell desserts.
Wallpaper that prevents others from stealing your Wi-Fi signal has been created to enhance privacy and security in our digital age. Or in a meeting of the digital and the aesthetic, wallpaper with embedded LED lights provides a new spin on illumination, replacing the need for traditional fixtures.
However, the most interesting manifestation of an old design mixed with new technology comes to us from engineers at Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA, who are developing ‘wallpaper’ that could double as an HD display. The vX Display System is, for now, made up of 15 flat screen panels that are ‘stitched’ together to make a single, giant screen. Of course, that’s nothing new. Anyone with some cash can put a bunch of TVs or displays on a wall. Except that these aren’t TVs. Not exactly.
Each panel has been built with its own set of electronics, meaning it can be thinner by nixing the typical components required in traditional, self-contained displays. The individual units can also be controlled simultaneously through a single PC. The idea is to keep scaling the collective-display by adding more and more of the individual modular panels, while paring down the size of the processors to create a new breed of printable, flexible display.
As Turner Whitted, Principal Researcher at Microsoft, says:
If you can print displays onto plastic surfaces, you should be able to print display processors as well, and, if you can do that, then this becomes a commodity. This becomes a big roll of display that you buy down at the hardware store and slap up on your wall. You don’t like your wallpaper? Reprogram it.
From cheap wall covering solution to an embedded, programmable display, wallpaper has come a long way. As display technologies get smaller and thinner, what other surfaces could become digitized and programmable? At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung unveiled its Smart Window prototype—a transparent display with an app-style operating system:
And Japanese technology company, Seraku, showed off this Android-based Smart Mirror at the Smartphone and Mobile Expo that displays weather, current news, and even a viewer’s weight all while they’re brushing their teeth:
Even now, tables and menus are being embedded with augmented reality to streamline the restaurant experience, there’s even a programmable 100% cotton t-shirt in the works, and flexible, plastic ‘e-paper’ could soon replace bulky-in-comparison e-book readers.
Since the vX Display System is a Microsoft project it’s possible that the company intends to include the technology in its HomeOS concept, which has been tested in 12 real homes over the past year. In a recent White Paper released by Microsoft Research the company offers a vision of a tech-enabled domestic future:
Pop culture, research prototypes and corporate demos have all envisioned a smart, connected home where multiple devices cooperate to cater to users’ wishes with little or no effort. For instance, in a home with remotely controllable lights, cameras and locks, it should be easy to automatically adjust lights based on the weather and time of day as well as remotely view who is at the door before unlocking it. But such seamless home-wide tasks are conspicuously absent from the mainstream despite the fact that the needed hardware devices are reasonably priced.
TV-embedded wallpaper could just be the first innovation in creating a future environment where everything- from refrigerators to tables to books- are digital, interactive, and integrated seamlessly into our environments.
With this technology as the backdrop, how accurate was Microsoft’s vision of life in 2019? Check out the video from 2009 and tell us what you think.