Dec 182013
 

The original idea of this wearable project was to create something unique to writers; something that would allow them to benefit and help push their passion. Many writers – myself included – have difficulty keeping track of our word count. See, writers usually want to hit a certain amount of words by the end of the day (for me, it’s usually around 2000 minimum). But school and work and easily get in the way of such things, and after a long day, and especially after hitting a lot of “writer’s block,” keeping up with the target word count can be a huge issue, and one that looms over the head of every writer.

The idea behind this shirt is simple: force writer’s to display their current word count and compare it to their projected word count. I wanted to accomplish this by placing a screen on a t-shirt and have the current and projected word counts displayed so that everyone, the writer included, would have to see (constant reminder!). Essentially, I got a simple t-shirt, an LCD screen and a USB adapter to complete the project. The LCD screen came with a kit, which had components that needed to be soldered together and wires that, again, needed to be soldered in order for the screen to work. The USB adapter would have to be soldered on afterward, as an extra component. (I needed the USB so I could plug the screen into my laptop to code the word count stuff).

Let me go on the record and say that soldering is not in my skill-set, by any stretch of the imagination. I had to watch some tutorial videos and check out some “how to” sites in order to get the process down. (The first few initial tries at soldering ended in failure…). Eventually, I soldered all of the components together, but I ran into a big problem. The instructions on the SparkFun site – which were terrible, by the way – did not mention a power source. They simply stated that one was needed, or that the screen should be connected to a computer. I have a computer, so that solves it, right? Not exactly. In order for the screen to receive energy from the computer, two wires needed to be soldered to the main board. They needed to be in two very specific holes… The problem being that there were TWO of these two very specific holes. And the site did not specify which to utilize. So yeah, I had to guess.

The next issue came when trying to solder the USB adapter. The adapter needed to be connected to “headers,” which had to be soldered to the main board. I soldered the headers without too much trouble, and decided it was time to move toward coding. The coding itself was not too much of an issue. Just some trial and error. But before I could test the code to see if the screen would work and actually run the code, I made a critical error. I accidentally broke the headers that were attached to the USB adapter. Harrison supplied me with some last-minute headers, but ultimately, they did not work.

Also, just a small side note, sewing is not in my skill set either. Sewing the screen to the shirt was, well, lackluster. And I did not take into consideration the weight of the screen. It really weighs down the shirt, making it very uncomfortable to wear.

Ultimately, I put in the effort, but made some serious mistakes along the way, causing me to make a very… interesting, non-functioning t-shirt. Maybe I could re-visit this, with a new screen, and make it work.

The (non-working) word count shirt.

The (non-working) word count shirt.

By Ethan Harmon

Dec 172013
 

Completing the CircuitIf you have been around children for any length of time, then you know that the journey towards learning which shoe goes on which foot can be quite a grueling one. For some reason, it seems that some kids insist on ignoring your directions and patient explanations in order to put their shoes on their way (most often the wrong way). This is a problem that I have seen time and time again, which is why I created the Right Light shoes. This handy pair of kicks is designed specifically for those children who struggle in the area of putting on their shoes correctly. The concept is that the child will put on the shoes and, if they put them on the right feet, they can touch their toes together and watch a bright display of LEDs blink on their shoe. If, however, the shoes go on the wrong feet, no amount of toe-touching will make those LEDs light up.

The way that these shoes work is fairly simple. I used the Adafruit Gemma as my motherboard and connected a simple watch battery to it to power it. The negative ends of the multicolored LEDs are connected via conductive thread in the usual manner (all negative ends connected to “ground” on the Gemma), however the positive ends are connected in a slightly different way. Instead of connecting the positive ends directly to the positive petal on the Gemma, I connected them to one half of the heart shape on the left shoe. The other half of the heart is connected directly to the positive petal on the Gemma, which was programmed with the “blink” code. The other shoe has a whole heart shape, also made with conductive fabric, so that that, when pushed against the two heart-halves, it allows the connection to be made between the two halves, thus allowing the positive ends of the LEDs to be indirectly connected to the positive petal on the Gemma. While this may sound rather complicated, the it is primarily a matter of disrupting and then completing a simple circuit.

Hearts

When making these shoes work properly, I did run into a few problems. The main problem was the fact that making my LEDs have proper connection to the conductive thread was exceedingly difficult. It was almost impossible to get my hand inside the shoe enough to be able to make tight stitches when sewing the LEDs into the shoes. Once I made a few adjustments with the shoes (undoing, and later redoing, some seams on the shoes) I was able to continue with much more ease and accuracy. Another problem was that the conductive fabric is highly sensitive and so, once I turned the shoes on, I had to be extremely meticulous about snipping off any loose threads so they would not make an accidental connection. The coding itself was not very difficult because I only really needed to program one pedal on the Gemma and, once I got my computer compatible with the Adafruit system, that came very easily. Using the “blink” code on the Arduino program was the most obvious choice and, aside from compatibility issues with the Adafruit system, all I really had to do was write in the one pedal and choose how rapidly I wanted my lights to blink.

My main mission with these shoes has been to make learning a fun and colorful experience for children. It seems that education is becoming more and more dry and “black and white” when it should be bright, fun, and above all INTERACTIVE! These shoes are a way of teaching the child a relatively valuable concept in a way that they can actually grasp and understand. This little bit of education, I believe, has become a bit mundane for most parents and, therefore, children often do not understand how to correctly put on their shoes until they are much older than is necessary. With a technology like these shoes available, it will open up the opportunity for this lesson to be taught successfully and in a way that will make the child excited to do the task correctly the first time.

Throughout our Fashioning Circuits class, we have gone over a lot of writings that reflect the idea of technology and fashion coming together to make life more entertaining and convenient for people. There is also quite a bit of emphasis on creating wearable tech that is both functional and pleasing to the eye. In the article by Lauren Silvermen entitled, “Where High-Tech Meets High-Fashion“, she quotes designer Jennifer Darmour when she says, ““if we are going to be making these wearable devices and gadgets and we’re asking people to wear them, they need to look good.” This is an issue that I attempted to address with the Right Lights when considering their general design. I purposefully put the Gemma, battery, and LEDs underneath the fabric so that the outside looks far less like a pair of walking robot shoes and more like a pair of everyday children’s slip-ons. This information regarding wearable tech needing to be visually appealing, combined with a large amount of information regarding how to code, and also how circuits function, from the book, Open Software, enabled me to have the tools necessary to create these shoes. They are intended to simply create a fun, interactive, and colorful shoe-wearing experience for children, no matter what their age.

 

Dec 062013
 

tweet alerting me to the Microsoft bra, with an image from the articleCross-posted from The Spiral Dance

Earlier this week, Twitter user @s_hardey tweeted at me that Microsoft is working on a high-tech bra. The tweet came on a Tuesday, which is my busiest teaching day. Before I got a chance to check it out, it got buried in my mentions.

But today…today is an unexpected work-at-home day thanks to winter storm Cleon. So when I saw this PolicyMic article in my Tweet stream, it reminded me that I had never followed up on Sarah’s tweet and gave me the chance to check it out.

Microsoft Has Invented a Bra That Discourages Women From “Emotional Eating” – PolicyMic.

Nina Ippolito is responding to a research team’s project that used a phone app to track the relationship between women’s emotions and eating habits and then tried to use the app to intervene before emotional eating could occur. The intervention came in the form of a message that suggested deep breathing exercises. The third stage of the project developed a prototype bra that tracked the emotional state of the wearer based on vital signs. The data gathered by the bra did not result in an intervention. Instead, the purpose was to see how well the vital signs aligned with emotional state. The paper does not seem to indicate how the bra might eventually be connected to a strategy of intervention. Would it buzz? Shock? Connect to the wearer’s phone and the app? It’s unclear.

Ippolito’s critique of the Emotional Eating bra raises many interesting questions. Like Ippolito, I find myself hesitant about the researchers’ choice of which women’s health problem to solve. I suspect that emotional overeating is a problem for which the researchers felt that their wearable device presents a plausible solution. However, the device has problematic potential for policing women’s emotions and bodies in a culture that is already quite adept at doing so.

Continue reading »

Nov 052013
 

It seems that the Iron Man films – and other sci-fi fare – have inspired more than an onslaught of video games, comic books and t-shirts. Due to the increasingly dangerous missions carried out by the military, a new Iron Man-like suit is being developed for soldiers. Don’t believe me? Take a look:

Yep, this crappy CG video is not a last-gen computer game. This is a “simulation” of what the suit will do. Allegedly, according to an article on Mashable, the creation of the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit – or TALOS – was inspired after a Special Ops officer witnessed one of his fellow soldiers dying while trying to safe a hostage. After the idea was born, the construction of a prototype was underway.

A chemical engineering professor from the University of Delaware, Norman Wagner, decided to create the material of the suit out of nanotechnology, saying that it will be a liquid-like substance. Apparently, it will be light-weight and durable until it is hit, which it would then become very hard and tough. As the professor puts it, the reaction of being hit will cause particles to bunch together and form a protective layer.

On top of this, the suit will have an exoskeleton, which will have attachable hydraulic arms and legs (for heavy lifting). AND it will have a visor with 360 degree night vision display, just because why the hell not… and to see any nearby enemies.

I guess, for me at least, this kind of tech and wear is frightening. Sure, it’s fun to watch and read about Iron Man flying through the skies and taking out bad guys. But, and here comes the nerd part of me, the idea of Iron Man was that he funded and produced these types of weapons, and he is redeeming himself by destroying them.

Off the topic of comic book themes, this huge progression in military tech is scary due to the increasingly powerful nature of these inventions. Sure, there are some huge benefits for the use of this suit: more protection, less lost lives, take out the enemy easier, etc. But what happens after this? Where do we go next? And what about the rest of the world? Are they going to just sit back and let the US make Iron Man suits and do nothing? Doubtful. This seems like another arms race.

Granted, it’s not on a nuclear scale, but this is still crazy. I mean, this is just one small step at the moment. Where does it take us? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer for that. But I’m not sure if I want the answer right now.

 

 

Oct 282013
 

 

Exmobaby-Pajamas-Track-Baby-Vitals-Use-AT-T-WirelessIf there is one thing that all new parents have in common, it is the desire to understand exactly what their little bundle of joy is thinking and feeling. There are dozens of products in circulation that try to bridge the gap between the mind of the infant and their parents which include audio/video baby monitors and millions of insightful baby-interpretation books. Stepping far beyond these devices, however, is the Exmobaby technology. The company, Exmovere, has created a device that actually has the ability to easily, safely, and accurately read your baby’s moods, vitals, and physical state.

The Exmobaby is an article of clothing that contains a band of dozens of tiny sensors and monitors that can keep track of virtually every aspect of your baby’s physical state. This product comes in the form of a hypoallergenic onesie that comes in four sizes, ranging from newborn to twelve months of age. The electronic components of the garment (a thin strip around the middle and a separate wireless transceiver housed in a pouch on the front) are removable so that the garment is completely machine washable. The main electronic components are housed separately in a “bay station” that does not come in contact with the baby, ensuring that the infant is kept safe.

According to Exmovere, the Exmobaby uses embedded electrocardiogram, skin temperature, and moisture and movement sensors, to wirelessly transmit the baby’s vitals to the receiving device via bluetooth. The system constantly monitors the baby’s physical state and is then able to detect any abnormalities or alarming symptoms. This information is then sent from the monitor to the phone/tablet/computer of the parent/grandparent/nanny/etc. The accompanying smart phone application also allows the user to create alerts based on different physical states of the baby. For instance, if you notice your baby is happy at a particular time, you could save those vitals so that you will know next time that mood arises.This would be particularly helpful with moods like “hungry” or “tired” which can often leave inexperienced parents completely perplexed.

exmobaby_2

The Exmobaby, while targeted at new parents, would be particularly useful in cases of babies with medical issues. Babies with heart problems, seizures, or mental disorders could be monitored remotely by the parent, providing much more peace of mind. Parents can keep track of their baby while at work, on vacation, or when simply leaving their child at daycare for the day.  With the app connected to the monitor, this product also becomes even more relevant with parents of today’s generation who rely on their technology more than ever before. This is also good news for Exmovere because, as stated in the article “The App Wars Come To Wearables – Consumers Will Be The Winners“, apps which aid in everyday life without being strictly fitness related, are going to skyrocket as more emerging companies like Exmovere begin to utilize them.

This device will open up a whole new world for wearable technology as well as parents as they can now closely monitor their babies health and mood right from their smart phone. The Exmobaby takes “wearing your heart on your sleeve” to a whole new level and I can’t help but wonder what they will think of next.

Sep 242013
 

We live in a world where our pocket-sized supercomputers tell us the best place to have dinner, how to get there, and what the traffic is like, while our cars have sensors that warn us not to back in to the fire hydrant at the end of the driveway on our way out. With all of the technology that surrounds us and directs us through our daily life, it is a shame to know that the visually impaired, the people who need direction the most, largely still depend on the use of canes and service animals to navigate.

MIT named Anirudh Sharma as Indian Innovator of the Year under age 35 for his "Le Chal" project.

MIT named Anirudh Sharma as Indian Innovator of the Year under age 35 for his “Le Chal” project.

Anirudh Sharma, a 24 year old researcher in Bangalore, India, made it his goal to change that. He has designed the first low-cost, unobtrusive, haptic shoe for the blind. The project has been eloquently named “Le Chal” which is a Hindi translation of “Take Me There”.

The shoe works in partnership with a smartphone application which can use Bluetooth to connect any GPS enabled smartphone to the shoe. The shoe itself contains small vibrational actuators on each side, as well as proximity sensors, and is powered by an Arduino Lilypad, all of which are located in the interior of a completely normal looking shoe.

The user speaks his desired destination into the voice activated smartphone app, which finds the best route via the phone’s GPS system, and gives the user vibrational cues on how to get there. Also, when the user comes within proximity of an object that could obstruct his path, the actuators on that side of the shoe begin to vibrate, getting stronger at closer range, alerting the user of the object’s location and the direction to navigate around it.

Possibly the best part of this system is how unobtrusive it is. The visually-impaired rely on their sense of hearing to understand what is going on around them, so a directional assistive device that used vocal or sound cues would impede upon that. The quiet vibrational cues free up the rest of the user’s senses.

This product is still in the testing phase and is projected to be released before the end of 2013. If testing goes well, this innovative product has the possibility to free the visually-impaired from their canes and service animals within certain environments, making them feel empowered and independent. However, some places (specifically many large US cities) are not built to be very pedestrian-friendly, and a service animal would likely remain the safest means of navigation. But, having the freedom to make that choice, and to travel safely and independently in pedestrian-friendly areas is a significant step in the right direction for the visually impaired.

Further Readings:

Anirudh Sharma’s Portfolio – Le Chal
The Economist – Footwear for the Blind
CrunchWear – Bluetooth Shoes Offer Independence for the Visually Impaired
MIT Technology Review – Haptic Shoe for the Visually Impaired

Sep 092013
 

Galaxy Gear

Recent years have seen a large influx of smart devices. Everything from our phones to our cars to even our refrigerators is “smart,” so why not our watches? There have been a few “smart” watches surfacing recently, but nothing that’s really taken off yet. A week ago, Samsung announced the Galaxy Gear, which is looking to be a truly smart piece of gear. Sporting a 1.63” AMOLED touch screen display, the Galaxy Gear will connect wirelessly to your Samsung Galaxy phone and offer a variety of control options for said phone. Running on an Android based system, the Galaxy Gear will be able to control everything from your music to phone calls and texts to more than 70 apps at launch. Also included in the wristband is a 1.9 megapixel camera so users can take pictures without ever having to take their phones out of their pockets. On top of all of these features, the watch will sport a stylish brushed metal face and come in a variety of colors.

Will these features be enough to make the Galaxy Gear a success?  More importantly, will it be enough to make smart watches in general a success? If trends have anything to say about this, then the Galaxy Gear will be a huge hit. What about other companies? Many websites have speculated that Apple will make a similar announcement at their big event tomorrow, September 10th. If these rumors are to be believed, we will soon have another technology war, but this time it will be slightly more fashionable.

Arriving in the US in October, the Galaxy Gear will retail for $299.

May 082013
 

Rape, women’s rights, and abortion are always a hot topic in politics and the development of an anti-rape underwear invented by students from SRM University is a powerful statement in regards to those three hot buttons. The Society Harnessing Equipment (SHE) was developed by 2 females and 1 male from Sri Ramaswamy Memoria (SRM) University after the merciless rape of a young Indian woman in December, according to the India Times.

After research the team found that attackers often grab for the breast first which is what led them to developing the SHE camisole. When a woman gets attacked the camisole will send an electric shock to her attacker of up to 82 volts. The electric shock circuit board is positioned on the chest of the camisole and is equipped with a GPS tracking unit. When the sensors are activated the GPS and GSM unit would send out an alert to an emergency number and the woman’s parents.

The product is still in it’s early phases as they are partnering with The National Institute of Fashion to find a fabric that can be washable but the concept is out there and on it’s way to helping women. This is just one advance towards the problem of rape in our society that will possibly only protect those that are fortunate enough to purchase one. There are still many more strides that need to be taken in our society to help prevent women from being brutally raped but I’m excited to say fashion and technology is on it’s way to helping!

May 082013
 

2012 and 2013 has been an interesting time period for the development of technology into fashion, specifically with the development of Google Glass. Although, outside of the sporting good market where else have we seen advances in technological fashion to your mass markets? At a whopping expected price point of $1,500 who exactly does Google think they are marketing to?

Currently Google has a lead in the advances toward incorporating “computers” into fashionable items in the accessory market. Apple has also been rumored to be coming out with iWatch which is again in the accessory market. We have yet to see advances in the Ready To Wear market outside of the health and fitness arena. Techno Fashion by Bradley Quinn was published in 2002 and references the i-Wear project which was a production of prototype garments. This project was experimenting with making clothing that used laptops, mobile devices, and batteries which we are just now starting to see with the development of these new “smart” fashion pieces.

“Our philosophy was to integrate very naturally the technology into the clothing. The i-Wear shouldn’t hinder people’s movements, it should be like normal clothing, but with many new options. It should be a second skin that feels what is going on inside the body and outside in the environment and takes action using that data.” De Brouwer (Quinn, p. 103)

So from 2002 to 2013 we haven’t made any leaps and bounds towards the mass market having access to this kind of “i-Wear” that De Brouwer and his team were working on for a span of five years but is Google Glass about to bridge this gap? Much like the Apple fanboys Google has a strong following and they may have the brand power and hype on their side to make this technological advance stick around. While they clearly are not at a point to bring the cost to a more consumer friendly place they sure do have enough hype around their product. Currently the product is in the hands of thousands of developers and will soon be out for an “everyday” consumer to purchase…of course an everyday consumer who has $1,500 lying around to purchase on a gadget that may or may not stick around.

The question that I would like to pose is, are we at a point were people are ready to rely less on their phone and more on an item of “fashion”? Phones over the past decade have taken a place in our society as a statement of wealth and also a fashion statement. We have come a long way from the brick phones from the 80’s to the newest iPhone 5’s sleek design. So many people base their status in society on what phone they carry that are we ready to make the jump to glasses or a watch that will make a phone almost useless besides for its original purpose, to make phone calls. It can be easily seen every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone that this piece of hardware is so extremely important that people will wait for days in line just to be the first to have one. It has yet to be seen how Google will market this item to the mass public but it will be interesting to see if your average customer will want to try them on.

In an article from Mashable.com they referenced an infographic from footwear retailer Brantano that seems to be quite useful in this discussion.   

infographic from http://www.brantano.co.uk

infographic from http://www.brantano.co.uk

 

Mar 192013
 

It’s interesting to see the full video of Hussein Chalayan in contrast to the animated GIFs that first hit my radar by way of Errolson Hugh’s Twitter and then later by an io9 post. Both broadcasts were distillations of the video down to those few key moments in which models tug at their dress only to have them transform into something entirely different while they walk. The idea is compelling, and the GIFs are absolutely hypnotic, but there’s a few things I find interesting here:

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:23 pm