interdisciplinary research studio-lab


Paper Based Reusable Sensors

Project Description:

PAPYRUS is a collaborative research project to develop home made sensors using readily available industrial materials such as paper, pigments and conductive inks. The research aims to show that home made solutions are efficient and robust alternatives to industrial sensors and that, by using such solutions, one can produce interfaces not possible from existing, off the shelf industrial sensors and significantly reduce development cost. Based on these objectives, the research will: (1) develop these new sensing technologies, (2) support the sensor research needs of a new dance-theater project entitled City of Paper from the United States/China, (3) examine and document with the artists the effectiveness of the sensors under the real world conditions of live performance, and (4) provide future researchers and artists with information on the development of such sensors through a tool kit and a dedicated project dissemination website.

PAPYRUS brings together new technologies in sensing, materials and electronics with one of the oldest materials known to man: paper. Unlike industrial sensors, paper as a material is recyclable, flexible and almost infinitely variable in terms of shaping, folding, cutting, fastening and other methods. The manufacturing process utilizes ecologically more sustainable techniques through the use of water and natural fibers. Furthermore, off the shelf industrial sensors such as FSR’s (force sensitive resistors) which are used to sense multiple points of pressure, are expensive, have pre-defined shapes which make them difficult to scale in size for unusual artistic applications (like sensing oddly shaped objects) and have pre-defined electrical characteristics which again makes sensing over large surfaces difficult. The logistical challenge involved in the use and repair of industrial sensors in non-Western or remote contexts/locations where one does not have immediate access to electronics suppliers or stores also suggests a strong motivation for the home made creation of sensors using materials like paper which are ready at hand and can be produced without expensive fabrication equipment.

In artistic collaboration with co-PI Christopher Salter, New York based, Chinese born choreographer Yin Mei will research a new dance theater work entitled City of Paper: a duet between the choreographer and former William Forsythe dancer Sang Jijia, a star performer in contemporary Chinese dance. Throughout City of Paper, the elements of ink (which the dancer’s soak themselves in), video, light, sound and paper and architecture interact and converge with each other, resulting in a form of “danced calligraphy” between performers and environment.

In order to explore paper as a new, sensate scenographic element, the project demands low cost, robust, scalable, easily produced and repaired sensors that can measure such factors as pressure, bend and position of touch across the large paper constructed surfaces (floor elements, sculptural forms, window shade-like “pull down” screens) with accurate resolution within a few millimeters. Thus, the research will draw on and extend three different but complementary sources of previous work: (1) development of paper and traction sensors at the IDMIL, McGill University, (2) development of embedded sensing and electronics inside paper pulp begun at Concordia University and now being continued under the Pulp-based Computing initiative at the MIT Media Lab’s Ambient Intelligence research group and (3) various artistic explorations with active paper sensing and actuation technologies arising from the 2006 Hexagram project Excitable Sites with Joey Berzowska, Christopher Salter, Barbara Layne and Sha Xin Wei at Concordia University. In addition, the project will uniquely extend new and ongoing work between the PI’s funded by a SSHRC research/creation grant to develop wireless distributed sensor networks for live stage performance contexts, opening up the possibility of making the proposed paper sensors wireless.

Artistic Results of the Research:

City of Paper Workshops

Hexagram, Montréal (August 2008)


City of Paper Workshops

Asia Society, New York, City (October 2008)


Funder: Hexagram Institute

Dates: May 2008-May 2009

Collaborators: labXmodal (Concordia University) and IDMIL (Input Devices and Music Interaction Laboratory, McGill University)


  • Dr. Marcelo M. Wanderley (PI)
  • Rodolphe Kohoehly
  • Joseph Malloch
  • Joseph Thibodeau


  • Chris Salter (co-PI)
  • Dr. Marije A.J. Baalman
  • Harry C. Smoak
  • Brett Bergmann
  • Yin Mei Critichell (collaborating artist)

Status: In Progress