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Q&A | Capacitive iPad Cover

We see our products as a gateway to electronics in unexpected places and INKO is no exception. When Alexandre Echasseriau combined tattooing, leather work and Electric Paint he found a way to produce a capacitive keyboard with a precise design. Alexandre now works with Appropriate Audiences, who have hacked a 3D printer to create a tattooing machine, and are using Electric Paint to make circuits and sensors on leather. Excited to learn more, Grace quizzed Alexandre on how his project came about and his unique application of our conductive paint.

Photos: Alexandre Echasseriau and Corrine Stoll

Hi Alexandre, please tell me a little about your background as a designer.

I am a 29 year old product/industrial designer. I come from Toulouse in the South of France and study in the design school Ensci Les Ateliers.  As part of my work, I focus on the question of the designer’s role in an industrial landscape between booming and decline. Since 2012 I have been on a kind of ‘specific skills Tour de France’, moving between craftsmanship, high technology laboratories, small, medium and large companies. My work introduces a specific methodology: gathering exceptional human skills and applying them to everyday objects.

Can you describe the INKO project and where the concept came from? Why is this object useful or different?

The concept came from the approach I just described – the crossing of materials, technology and craft skills. The designer is the link between a combination of skills, and his aim is to make them contemporary in a changing industrial landscape. 

INKO is an iPad keyboard and cover. It started out by combining the skills of a leather worker, a tattoo artist and Bare Conductive’s Electric Paint. We wanted to incorporate the printed circuit board into the depth of the leather to sustain electrical connections. The conductive paint was directly tattooed in the thickness of the leather, which transmits the electrical signal from the keyboard to the iPad through a miniature Bluetooth transmitting antenna. I am looking for a capacitive Bluetooth keyboard using Nordic low energy chip. But I’d rather develop this keyboard technology with Bare Conductive and the Touch Board which I’ve been experimenting with a lot. This project is also being developed by the cultural sponsorship program Audi Talents Awards.

Why did you chose to work with Electric Paint and leather?

I really wanted to explore the potential of Electric Paint. Tattooing the paint rather than screen printing or painting opened up an opportunity to create a sustainable and robust PCB circuit. The luck was that after a little dilution, the paint could be perfectly tattooed and conducts very well. The actual shape of the cover/keyboard was done in one step by the leather worker, using embossing techniques which helped to achieve a “keystroke”.

What does the future look like for INKO?

Well actually the manual tattooing has been replaced by a system called Tatoué. Behind this system is Appropriate Audiences– Pierre Emm & Johan Da Silveira & Piotr Widelka. This trio of designer-hackers hijacked a 3D printer to create a tattoo machine. Our projects met, and it seemed obvious we could work together. Moreover, after numerous discussions with my tattoo artist, it turned out that tattooing by hand was incompatible with leather and quite hard, repetitive work for an artist like him. Their machine allows full control of the injections of paint and it can keep to the hundredth of a millimeter!

In the future I would like to explore the tattooed PCB and open the applications in collaboration with Bare Conductive. My exploration will always be in designing objects for the home or the daily life. I hope with the Audi Talents Awards, I get financial support to bring this project forward.