In that same creative learning class, my collaborators and I came up with the idea of making wirelessly connected scrapbooks. You'd make something of an interface in your book and your friend would make the same in another book. When you press a button in one book, something would happen in the other book. That was the context. It's called Telescrapbook.
We had these scrapbooks and wanted electronics you could build really easily but that were also flat so that they could fit in a book. That's when we created, by hand, vinyl stickers that we then soldered with copper tape and conductive fabric tape to make the conductive pads of the stickers. That was actually the first prototype of a Circuit Sticker. It worked, and we even did a workshop with a group of kids on making interactive greeting cards. It was really fun, but it wasn't very scalable because we had to make the stickers by hand. It took us all afternoon to make 10. We can't tell the world to go make stickers this way because you would need a farm of grad students to make your stickers. That's no good.
I made other prototypes since then, but they were all handmade and it wasn't very feasible. Again, we started using traditional components like LEDs with the legs bent out or surface-mount LEDs, which are tiny and flat. They look like grains of rice and we would literally tape them down with pieces of scotch tape. That worked, except that the surface-mount LEDs, while they were little and easily integrated into projects, they were so little that if you dropped one on the ground you could basically just say goodbye to it forever. That wasn't the best because they're made for robots and machines. They're not made for human hands and aren’t easy to use.
Then a wonderful thing happened and Andrew "bunnie" Huang came to the Media Lab as a visiting researcher. Instead of lecturing us, he actually took a group of students to Shenzhen, China, and basically lectured there. We looked at scale and used scale as part of our research. Suddenly we, as students, had access to manufacturing; instead of making prototypes by hand, we could make a ton of anything.
During that trip we were all encouraged to explore how we might use what we learned in our own research. That's when I started revisiting the stickers. We brainstormed together and came up with ideas of how we could make the stickers using traditional manufacturing processes.
We found this amazing conductive adhesive that we could put on the bottom of the stickers. We made the printed boards through a regular process for making flexible circuit boards. Then we took them to another factory that worked with books, paper, and stamps. They cut the pieces out and put paper backing on the stickers. Somewhere between the two places, we put the conductive adhesive on.
It was a Frankenstein process between the circuit board people and the paper people. It was completely enabled by the manufacturing but through a very different process. It took a long time, but we had actually made a functioning electronic sticker. It was really exciting.