Sep 102011
 

Welcome to Fashioning Circuits, a public Humanities project related to Fashion and Emerging Media.

Photo "electronic led light dress at the museum of science and industry in chicago" by Flickr user David Hilowitz

Photo “electronic led light dress at the museum of science and industry in chicago” by Flickr user David Hilowitz

Fashioning Circuits was launched in September 2011 as part of a series of independent studies in the graduate program in Emerging Media and Communication (EMAC) at the University of Texas, Dallas. The goal of the project is twofold: to explore the ways in which fashion and emerging media intersect and to work with community partners to introduce beginners to making and coding through wearable media. In Fashioning Circuits “fashion” functions not just as a noun to describe cultural trends, but also as a verb, “to fashion,” to indicate the experiential and problem based learning strategies of the project as well as the potential for a diverse range of students to fashion themselves as members of the publics and counterpublics of the future.

This blog is one of the ways in which the work of the project is articulated. The blog content includes

  • Coursework – resources from university courses, both independent study and formal classes.
  • Emerging Media – examples and analysis of blogs, social media, mobile applications, etc. as they pertain to fashion.
  • High Fashion – information and analysis of haute couture and runway iterations of wearable media.
  • History – historical impact of science, technology, and media on fashion.
  • Identity – analysis of the impact of fashion and emerging media on identity, including raced, classed, gendered, differently abled and sexualized bodies.
  • Project News – information about Fashioning Circuits activities and press coverage of the project
  • Representations – representations of fashion in media, including art, media, games, social avatars, etc.
  • Wearables – analysis of developments in wearable media, smart textiles, etc.
  • Workshop – descriptions of wearable media projects and detailed tutorials.

Aside from the blog archive, the editorial team is also active on Twitter. Search for the hashtag #fashioningcircuits to see all of the interesting resources we are finding and sharing.

If you would like to work with us on planning a community event, please contact kim.knight@utdallas.edu  If you would like to volunteer your time at one of our community events, please join our Facebook planning group at http://facebook.com/groups/fashioningcircuits

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Oct 132014
 

A better-performing you? “It’s as easy as putting on a shirt!”

The female and male variants of Hexoskin, shown with compatible Android and iOS devices. (Linked to Hexoskin.com)

The Hexoskin, a plain, black shirt, is actually a lightweight, all-encompassing fitness tracker for extreme athletics and everyday activities alike. Hexoskin has been in development since 2006, when a Montreal design duo came up with the idea to streamline the existing method of invasive and uncomfortable physical trackers. Their design was so tantalizing to aerospace use that the Canadian Space Agency has been working closely to fund and test the product since its conception. They plan to send the shirts to the International Space Station in coming years for use by astronauts.

How forward-thinking is Hexoskin? A Bluetooth transmitter slipped into a pocket of the shirt connects to your device of choice, and beams information such as heart rate, lung capacity, oxygen levels, and sleep patterns, all in real time. The most high-profile uses thus far have been by the 2014 Spartan Race World Champion, the Canadian Olympic skiing team, and by polar researchers for the Canadian Space Agency. Those with conditions such as cardiac defects can wear the shirt to monitor their activity for any dangerous deviations. The only option previously was to wear sticky sensors beleaguered with wires until enough data was recovered.

Possibly the  biggest boon to Hexoskin is that it is an Open Data device, meaning that any developer, or user, can pull the sensors’ readings into whatever platform they wish. This philosophy of openness has really taken off in recent tech products, from Fitbit, to Android Wear, to Apple’s Health app and smart watch. The Hexoskin technology has already been licensed to clothing manufacturers, in the hopes that popular name brands can bring down the hefty $399 price tag, as well as create buzz in pop culture.

The team claims that products like Hexoskin are key to “preventative medicine,” much like the dozens of sensors in your car are key to preventative maintenance. If wearable technology and the Quantified Self movement seemed like a fad in recent years, then that stigma is quickly dissipating. According to Nielsen, 15% of the population is trying on wearable technology, and over half of those early adoptions are fitness bands. So what is stopping a majority of the population from grabbing the best, or cheapest, or most colorful fitness tracker from the nearest shelf? The answer seems to be that the intersection of technology and fashion simply isn’t where it needs to be for wide adoption. Designers can only be free to make something truly usable and artistic when “not directed by marketing demands or production methods,” and the smallness, lightness, and excellent battery life of today’s cutting edge tech is only just beginning to become usable by fashion designers (Bradley Quinn, Cybercouture). With its minimalist design, loaded feature set, and lack of visual cues that scream “nerd,” Hexoskin is a chance for technology and quantified health to break into the most worn of all wearables: clothing.

 

Sources:

http://goo.gl/MJvkdl (Nielsen)

http://goo.gl/iQujaT (Forbes)

http://goo.gl/EEUTSB (Hexoskin)

http://goo.gl/BXxcpU (Quinn)

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Oct 112014
 

By Karyn Narramore

Fluid Interfaces, the media lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT), recently unveiled its latest masterpiece, the FingerReader. The FingerReader is a 3-D printed ring with a mounted camera that scans text and reads it aloud to the wearer.  Special software scans the text and gives both audio and haptic feedback, letting the wearer know things like where the line begins and ends or to move to a new line. The algorithm can also detect and give feedback when the user moves away from the baseline of the text. The FingerReader is a device that could prove to be useful not only as a tool for the visually impaired but also for second-language learners, people with dyslexia or other language disorders, young children, victims of brain trauma, and tourists.

Ring in use; Fluid Interfaces, MIT

Ring in use; Fluid Interfaces, MIT

Fluid Interfaces as a group defines its purpose fairly simply: They want to create wearable interfaces that augment the human senses and capabilities, interfaces that can give the user a more natural experience with fewer distractions.  The FingerReader is still just a prototype and has not been tested extensively, but its aspirations seem fairly in line with Fluid Interfaces’ vision. Still in development, the FingerReader’s language translation abilities have not been implemented, but eventually this, along with the ability to connect to a smartphone or mobile device, is definitely in the game plan.  According to Roy Shilkrot of Fluid Interfaces, the current market for the reader is about 3%, which is the percentage of the population that is visually impaired.  Because the device is still in development, Shilkrot declined to speculate on pricing, but did say that the team is relatively confident that they will be able to sell the reader at an affordable price.  See the FingerReader in action here.

Continue reading »

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Oct 072014
 

By Amanda Swan

Musicians are often in the news for pushing the boundaries when it comes to making their music, like Beyoncé’s unadvertised surprise album last year or U2’s direct-to-iPhone release of their latest release. Music production has the potential to change dramatically in the near-ish future through the use of gesture sensing gloves.

Working closely with British musical artist Imogen Heap, Mi.Mu has been working on a data collecting, sound manipulating pair of gloves. Although their Kickstarter failed to meet its goal, the company is still working on newer, more streamlined gloves to potentially market to interested parties.

Gesture control glove

Gesture control glove, courtesy mimu.org.uk

The gloves themselves use sensors to read gestures made by the wearer, which are then translated into different kinds of manipulated sounds. Each movement corresponds to a different manipulation or sound; for example, a high-hat or a fader might be engaged with a flick of the wrist.

This technology opens up a new realm of music making. For those of us who are less musically inclined in the traditional sense, these gloves would be a good opportunity to dip our toes into the musical pool one more time. Someone who isn’t great at guitar could be phenomenal at creating music through these gloves. Someone who never got the hang of drumming might be great at playing piano. But with these gloves, that person might be able to revisit drumming by programming each finger to coordinate to a drum sound. They would be able to drum using their fingers, perhaps similar to the style of playing the piano.

As I was reading through the Mi.Mu Kickstarter page, I found a few comments about adapting this kind of glove (motion sensitivity) for other purposes. One user suggested this technology would be great for those who have to use sign language. If some software was developed to read motions and translate them into written language, it could open up great new possibilities in interpersonal communication and allow conversation with those that were previously unreachable.

Like the technology proposed in Lauren Silverman’s article SXSW: Where High-Tech Meets High-Fashion, the Mi.Mu musical gloves are far from commercial production. However, they both present so many opportunities for those who are unable to conform to traditional music or communication practices.

 

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Sep 302014
 

By: Jordan Massey

Image courtesy of Bragi.com

Image courtesy of Bragi.com

The age of wired technology is fast approaching its long-awaited doom.

While you were still busy ogling over the burgeoning trend in wearable fitness technology, one talent-stacked european company has been developing the Swiss Army Knife of wearable tech. Some say it’s a pair of wireless headphones, others say it’s a fitness tracker. Surprisingly, the Dash is both! And there’s none of that fitness tracker wristband malarkey, this gadget really does do it all.

The Dash by Bragi was first submitted as a Kickstarter project, and it raised an astounding $3.3 million, well above the project’s stated goal of $260,000. The Dash itself is a pair of wireless earbuds that also has the ability to track fitness data. The full list of features is nothing short of impressive, provided the real thing lives up to the hype.

The Dash, aside from taking advantage of wireless tethering, also has an onboard 4GB MP3 player, so the user with an active lifestyle does not need to carry a companion smartphone. The device features both Noise Reduction and Audio Transparency, which enables the user to allow environmental noise to pass through the headphones. This carries the benefit of allowing a user to remain aware of changes in their immediate area. An embedded earbone microphone is advertised as allowing crisp and clear phone conversations. Sporting an innovative dual touchpad control interface, the user can give several different commands to the Dash by simply swiping the cover of their earpiece.

In the image below you can see what the Dash looks like in-ear. While significantly larger than other earbuds on the market, the Dash is contoured to the shape of the middle ear. This allows room for all the added features, including the battery, while marketed as also providing a secure fit for active users. The flat surface in the middle of the earbud is the touch control interface. Swiping vertically, horizontally, and tapping can give the Dash various commands on either ear.

Continue reading »

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Sep 302014
 

What is often passed off as a negligible and readily available asset could be something that another person was eagerly waiting for. As students, reading forms a crucial part of our academics. However, for a person who is visually impaired, the path to obtain a formal education is wrought with difficulties like dependency on persons with normal vision or awaiting the availability of Braille versions of books. The World Health Organization estimates the population of visually impaired people as around 285 million. Yet, it is saddening to see that our technological advancements have not really been able to help them much. Until now.

Finger Reader Prototype

Finger Reader Prototype (http://indiaartndesign.com/IAnD_images/content2014/July/Fingerreader/FingerReader_IndiaArtnDesign(5).jpg MIT Fluid Interfaces Group )

The Fluid Interfaces group of Massachussets Institute of Technology(MIT)’s Media Lab has been working on a character reader that can fit on a person’s finger and can read text (off a surface) out loud as well as give signals to them. Termed “FingerReader”, the promise of this technology in aiding the visually impaired is in itself a noble cause. However, as scholars of wearable technologies, we need to look at the pros and cons of their design and what could be done to improve upon it.

fingerReader-that-reads-aloud-when-you-point-at-words-3

FingerReader (http://www.technicupdates.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/fingerReader-that-reads-aloud-when-you-point-at-words-3.jpg and MIT Fluid Interfaces Group)

 

Looking at the device, the immediate opinion that springs up is on the aesthetics. The ring seems overly bulky and we can see that there is a chip on one side and a wire that connects to a computer on the other. Having seen the extent of minimizing size whilst improving on the presentability of products, we can immediately say this is still in its development stage. However, when looking at the functional aspect of it, we find that there is much more than meets the eye. The technology seems to rely on a camera fitted on the device that sends in visual input to the system as the finger moves along the surface. Software then identifies spaces and characters and attempts to pronounce the same based on phonetic rules that have been pre-programmed. Although I am not sure about the voice, I think it is safe to assume that it is coming from the system’s built-in speakers and have a robotic echoing effect that would need to be worked upon. The speed of processing is not at the levels we are used to experiencing with the technologies we utilize everyday but, considering the amount of processing that needs to be done with each movement, the speed is appreciable. The Fluid Interfaces Group has put up a demo on their website which I have embedded below.

In the video, we can see that, although slow, the system is able to recognize and pronounce words accurately. The sensors and signals sent to show the ends and starts of lines are a thoughtful addition. The wearer doesn’t seem to feel the weight of the reader much and this is a sign that with future iterations, the size can definitely be scaled down even more. The group promises bluetooth enabling as well as mobile pairing options. It looks to be seen how much longer it will take to get all these implemented with the basic functional prototype. The group seems quite confident in their ability to sell and we can hope their pricing will be kept in a range that is affordable by a section of people who might not be economically well off.

For more details and to get involved with the project, do visit their website : http://fluid.media.mit.edu/projects/fingerreader

 

References : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/08/fingerreader-read-blind-mit_n_5565898.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

http://fluid.media.mit.edu/projects/fingerreader

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Sep 292014
 

By Suzanna Brooks

The greatest improvements in medicine in the last few decades have been made possible by advances in technology. Today new personal and mobile technologies are just beginning to allow us to take charge of our own health and medicine. Smartphone apps compile data and provide solutions, and wearable technology such as fitness bands track movement, heart rate, and more. But this is just the start of a new wave of tech gadgets and apps that will revolutionize how we care for our bodies.

The sophistication and widespread availability of mobile technology for all aspects of healthcare are about to take off, and this advanced tech will help us to take responsibility for our own health. Mobile apps that help you count calories, lose weight, get fit, quit smoking, track your alcohol intake, or manage a specific health condition are already available and in use.

Babylon welcome screenshot

Babylon consult screenshot Images via Babylon on Google Play

Health apps of the very near future will include the likes of Babylon, an app that books virtual appointments, tracks symptoms, and receives your prescriptions with no wait time. Or you might use WellDoc, which could be prescribed by your doctor to support chronic disease management “by integrating clinical, behavioral, and motivational applications with everyday technologies, like the internet and cell phone, to engage patients and healthcare providers in ways that dramatically improve outcomes and significantly reduce healthcare costs.”

“During the next five years, health apps will empower consumers to make improved and informed lifestyle choices leading to better health and reducing the risk of chronic disease,” says Damon Lightley, managing director at Genetic Apps, an app developer for the health, sports, medical, and pharma markets. “They’ll also enable healthcare professionals to detect diseases earlier and reduce care costs.”

Current wearable technology for healthcare includes fitness bands that track steps like Jawbone UP and Fitbit Flex, the Withings Pulse O2 which combines a pedometer with a heart rate and blood oxygen monitor, and Google Glass—which, among its myriad of uses, helps doctors to see more patient data in real time, hands free, and allows surgeons to better perform minimally invasive operations requiring reliance on imagery.

Some of the new and upcoming wearable technologies that are focused on improving health sound strange, but are currently under development: a shirt that detects irregular blood sugar levels, contact lenses that monitor changes in the retina, and intelligent fibers in clothing that keep track of your pulse, breathing, and heart rate. Other developments on the way include a smart sock that keeps track of people with Alzheimer’s disease, a skin patch that provides hypodermic injections throughout the day, and Digitsole—an insole that connects to a mobile device allowing you to adjust the temperature of your shoes, track activity, and also help adjust your posture.

Continue reading »

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Sep 232014
 

By Ethan Harmon

Apple had its annual “next big awesome waste of money” press conference earlier today, and of course, they revealed a brand new iPhone 5… er… 6! Yeah, that’s the one, 6. More or less the same ol’ stuff, except Apple pulled a surprise twist toward the end of the presentation: the Apple Watch. Yes, that’s right. Everything everyone loves about the iPhone and other Apple products will now be available in the form of a trendy watch.

Okay, okay. I know I’m being a little harsh on Apple, but hey, I’m not completely wrong here. They make decent products, and there are some incredible benefits to their iOS, but it’s just not for me. I’ve always felt the iPhone was lacking, and each iteration was just slightly better, or thinner, or whatever than the previous version. However, I was intrigued by the Apple Watch.

The smart watch is not something new. Samsung, LG and other companies have taken a crack at this before, although these watches were not what I call a “critical success.” What makes this watch so different? Well, first of all, it’s an Apple product, so it will be bought by enthusiasts and fans of the brand. And second… well, that’s a mystery. There is little information about the watch outside of some very vague technical specs. Essentially, the Apple Watch comes in three different versions: Apple Watch, Watch Sport and Watch Edition. Check out the image below for a better look:

A man standing in front of a screen showing three models of the Apple Watch

Source: Alex Washburn/WIRED

Outside of looking better than its predecessors, the interfaces seems more refined than other smart watches. Those who wear the watch can simply flip through apps with their finger, zoom in and out for easy selection with the dial on the side, send vibrations by tapping the screen and, strangely, even feel someone else’s heartbeat via the watch. A poorly recorded demonstration can be found below. Continue reading »

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Sep 232014
 

By Kristen Taylor

Photo courtesy of UrbanArmor.org

Photo courtesy of UrbanArmor.org

Photo courtesy of UrbanArmor.org

Photo courtesy of UrbanArmor.org

Last week, an acquaintance of mine posted a status on Facebook that said the following: “Yep, you pretty much give up any personal boundaries when riding the tram– some awkward ear caressing and arm caressing happened today.” Several things struck me about her post: it’s extremely matter-of-fact; no one who witnessed this event attempted to stop it; and the post received likes, rather than outraged comments. No one actually seemed terribly surprised that she faced unwanted and “awkward ear caressing” and “hand grabbing” from a stranger. It seems like for many people (especially those who identify as women), physical harassment is just one of those things that you are expected to put up with to exist in public spaces or utilize services.

Enter the the Personal Space Dress. Designed by artist Kathleen McDermott, the dress utilizes wearable technology to expand when someone gets too close to you, therefore preserving your personal space.

While this technology could be utilized in a variety of other situations when one may want to preserve personal space (like for those on the Autism spectrum who dislike some physical contact) it’s clear from Ms. McDermott’s video of the dress that her vision was for use in crowded places like public transit, where proximity can create opportunity for unwanted sexual contact.

Urban Armor# 2: The Personal Space Dress from Kathleen McDermott on Vimeo.

The dress works by using ultrasonic sensors to detect when someone (or something) is too close, which send an impulse that causes continuous motors to expand the dress outwards, like a hoop skirt. It shrinks back to its original size when the area is clear of the perceived threat.

Ms. McDermott notes on her website that this dress is not a product, but rather, an artwork meant to spark discussion. In a country where 65 percent of women are expected to experience public sexual harassment (via Stop Street Harassment), that’s always an admirable goal.

However, the design of this dress limits the conversation in several important ways. It’s pink. It’s frilly. It has more than a passing resemblance to a cupcake. None of these characteristics are inherently bad, but they do reinforce the narrative of feminine, cisgendered, heterosexual women as the only victims of sexual harassment. According to a report published by the organization Stop Street Harassment this year, 25 percent of men surveyed had experienced street harassment, and people of color, lower-income people, and people who identify as LGBT are all disproportionately affected. All people need to be safe in public spaces—not just those who embody traditional femininity and the discourse should reflect that.

The Personal Space Dress does unfortunately also remove the topic of consent from the discourse. Because it relies on “dumb” technology and cannot discern the difference between wanted and unwanted contact, the wearer is effectively cut off from any touch, even those enthusiastically consented to. It also puts the burden of responsibility on the wearer to protect themselves, rather than promoting a shift in culture that would render it useless. Once again, victims are expected to arm themselves against threats—hardly a revolutionary concept—and it’s easy to picture a society that blames all victims who don’t wear the Personal Space Dress for being harassed.

Related projects include a Tumblr blog called “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train (a lighthearted project that shows the ways in which men’s needs in public space are prioritized over women) and Stop Telling Women to Smile, an art series that addresses the impact of gender-based street harassment on its victims. Other projects in Ms. McDermott’s Urban Armor series include a veil that protects your identity from CCTV cameras and a robotic scarf that protects the wearer from pollution. While all three projects concentrate on ways that technology can protect the wearer, the Personal Space Dress is the only one that not only avoids unwanted situations, but addresses them head-on.

Further Reading:

View the instructions at Urban Armor

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Sep 212014
 

 By: Benaiah Ely

Photo courtesy of www.LiveAthos.com

Athos performance wear
Photo courtesy of www.LiveAthos.com

As the age of information progresses, people and organizations alike are benefitting from the ease at which they can access information pertaining to nearly everything via the internet. The development and continued use of social networks in particular has given people the chance to either share or receive knowledge regarding technologies, fashion, events and even health advice with others. Because of this, at least in part, there has been an increase in the formation of groups focused on increasing health awareness and the active decision to lead a life filled with healthy decisions. We’ve seen groups, almost recognizable as subcultures, form and gain mass participation as part of this process. Recognizable names, such as P90X or CrossFit, come to mind. Part of the appeal of said groups is that pretty much anyone can join.

So why wouldn’t everyone partake in such groups? As modern media outlets, particularly in the United States, continue to place an emphasis on maintaining a ‘fit’ and ‘toned’ exterior, it is not unreasonable to think that almost anyone would want to be part of such an active culture. So why aren’t they? It begins with establishing the basis for being able to participate in such groups. People need to be able to accomplish at least minor physical achievements to have the foundation to keep up with the aforementioned groups. It is likely that this can be accomplished by semi regular visits to a gym or fitness facility. But, as some people may know from personal experience, it isn’t always that simple. Gym phobias can set in, or rather, fears that often stem from working out in front of others. Often, these fears are due simply to a lack of information. What workouts are the best for me? Which exercises should I do to target specific muscles? How do I know I’m doing the workouts right? These are all legitimate questions, likely faced by many of us. To overcome this, some seek the opinions or expertise of those who are well versed in exercise. An entire business has been founded on this idea, as personal trainers or fitness instructors have become an integral part of any gym. What do they do exactly? Well, they more or less tell the individual which workouts to do, how to perform the exercises in an optimal manner, and encourage the participant throughout the workout. It is a noble practice and an often necessary one. Even some of the most avid exercise fanatics will admit that monitoring your own exercises to make sure they’re being performed optimally can be a difficult task. Thus, the need for a personal trainer is only heightened. Right?

Feeling similar frustrations, Dhananja Jayalath and Christopher Wiebe, two gym-goers frustrated with their routines, decided to take action. Together, they “set out on a mission to help people improve their lives by providing actionable insights without disrupting their existing routines.” Essentially, the two individuals combined digital technology and performance wear to create clothing that will, in a sense, become your personal trainer. Thus, Athos was born. Continue reading »

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