Interview with TouchWood Labs

Dec 3, 2021

Catalyst Connection’s Emily Siegel recently conducted an interview with Matthew Dworman and Gaurav Asthana the Co-Founders of TouchWood Labs.

What do you make at TouchWood Labs?

Matthew: We make digital interphases inside of natural materials.
Gaurav: Like opaque touch displays built into walls, tables, really any surface.

What hobbies and skills did you have when you were younger that you see having an influence on the work you’re doing now?

Matthew: As a kid I played with LEGOS and erector sets. I was always a hacker and maker and picked up woodworking as a hobby which led to me making furniture. I went to grad school to learn more about technology and to develop skill sets around prototyping with things like Arduinos and Raspberry Pi which led me to doing this startup.
Gaurav: I was a big fan of Hot Wheels, LEGOS, and breaking things to see how they worked. At 15, my dad also put me in charge as the “project manager” for a house project my family was working on. I got to organize all the details and it was very hands on. I now do project management work for TouchWood.

What’s your favorite thing about making a physical product?

Matthew: I enjoy the physical act of making products. When you can create what you’re picturing that’s really rewarding, but the process of physically making something with your hands can be equally rewarding.
Gaurav: I love learning different skills like how to carve and use 3D printing. Putting in the literal blood, sweat, and tears to create a product is very rewarding and it gives me a sense of pride when I can hold a finished product I built by hand.

How do you think your product will benefit the world?

Matthew: I think it’ll have a big impact on the world. We as a society rely heavily on devices for so much and we mindlessly reach for tech as soon as we get bored, so finding other ways to get that access without requiring a device will help to enhance people’s daily lives.
Gaurav: I think it’ll improve the relationship people have with technology – right now it’s an addictive relationship. People’s attachment to their phones has increased things like depression, so spreading out touchpoints will hopefully reduce that attachment.

What encouragement would you give to kids and their parents to reassure them that manufacturing and creating products is a worthwhile career choice?

Matthew: I’ll preface it with saying it’s not for everybody, but if you have any inkling to create stuff then it’s 100% worthwhile.  It’s especially true if you’re making something to enhance people’s lives in any way – you’re able to leave your mark on the world even if you’re just helping one person.
Gaurav: You can make a ton of money doing a skill that you really like. It also helps with character building, because you have to be patient, learn how to iterate, and you’re constantly persevering to reach your goal.

Lastly, who is one of your favorite Pittsburgh makers/creators (individual, startup, local business, etc.) and why?

Matthew: Chris Harrison at CMU, he’s the head of the Future Interphases Group at the Human Computer Interaction Institute and is very creative when it comes to thinking about different ways in which we’ll interact with computers in non-traditional ways. He’s a really good hacker.
Gaurav: I really like your startup company, Trek Gum – I think what you’re doing is important and can help reduce plastic from the environment.