Designer Clement Zheng has created a collection of conductive ceramics that can heat food, act as interfaces for smart devices and sense moisture.
Zheng, who developed the idea with a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore, including designer Hans Tan, said he drew on the idea of computing interacting with everyday life to create pieces that would be useful in everyday situations.
“We were inspired by the Internet of Things and wanted to explore how ‘smart’ objects can be integrated into everyday life,” Zheng told Dezeen.
“In this project, instead of developing a separate line of electronic devices for the home, we imagined how common ceramic utensils could be turned into objects that can interact.”
The resulting pieces include a salad bowl with a touch slider that means it can be used as an interface for smart home devices such as music systems or lighting.
The team also created a plate with four electrodes that could monitor eating activity and a plate with a heating circuit that could heat the plate up to 100 degrees Celsius and be used to keep food warm during a meal.
Other pieces in the collection include tiles that can detect heat or temperature changes and could be used to detect a kettle or a wet floor, as well as a moisture-sensing pot that could help users monitor plant moisture levels .
The designers used a resist-spitting technique developed by Tan to make the ceramics conductive.
This saw them cover the ceramic objects with vinyl stickers cut into circuit design shapes before blasting them with alumide powder, which removes material from the exposed parts of the pot.
Zheng then hand-brushed conductive silver ink over the sandblasted traces, which were eventually scraped off to leave nested conductive traces on the ceramic pot.
“The conductive traces in the ceramic serve as functional sensors such as temperature and humidity sensors and transducers such as heating elements,” he said.
“We connect these traces to an external power supply and microcontroller to send and receive electrical signals,” he continued.
“To interface the ceramic pots with these external components, we used a custom pad with conductive pads.”
Zheng has sourced the ceramics used in the project from both local homeware stores and large retailers such as IKEA, and hopes it could eventually become a commercial collection.
“The commercialization of project results is always on our minds,” he said. “Currently, we are focusing on research and development of the approach of embedding functional circuits in ceramic objects, as well as testing their durability in terms of everyday use,” he added.
The team used refractory blasting to create the conductive ceramics
More infrastructure also needs to be developed to make conductive ceramics a regular part of everyday life.
“We’re also developing the computing and electronic infrastructure these objects need to operate in a broader connected system,” Zheng said.
“These are important aspects that we need to resolve in order to translate this idea from prototypes to real-world products.”
The team is also currently investigating the longevity of the products, which can be hand-washed as “the recessed conductive traces resist abrasion and wear,” Zheng explained.
“We are just beginning the next phase of this investigation,” he added. “In this new phase, we plan to study the effective lifetime of the sensors, as well as explore different conductive inks for their durability. Anecdotally, the objects we created are still working after nearly six months.”
Zheng’s previous works include a clock-radio that was turned into a storytelling device and was presented as part of the R for Repair exhibition in Singapore.
London-based studio Bare Conductive also experimented with conductive design, turning a sheet of paper into functional light, while Mui Lab created a plank of wood that doubles as a smart home controller.
Photo by Clement Zheng and Han Bo.
Research group: Clement Zheng, Hans Tan, Yen Ching-Chiuan, Han Bo, Liu Xin, Serene Tan, Travis Ong, Wina Nashita (National University of Singapore) and Laura Devendorf (University of Colorado Boulder.)