Sep 152014
 

By Amanda Sparling

Photo by idigitaltimes.com

Festivals. Music Festivals. Art Festivals. Movie Festivals. Technology Festivals. People of all ages and socioeconomic statuses find themselves flocking to festivals across the world which cater to their particular variety of fun. Each festival offers a unique experience defined by a diverse and highly passionate cult-like following. The atmosphere is full of energy, as ranges of people descend upon a single area to come together and celebrate a passion for a fixed period of time. In theory, it sounds electrifying. People from all over the world coming together to rally around a common interest and cause – but with so many individuals converging into a single area security and communication become a very real concern for both the administrators and attendees of the event.

However, in this day and age, a new trend in the festival experience has emerged – Smartbracelets. A wearable, functional bracelet that allows attendees and event coordinators to access the festival and seamlessly communicate in both emergency and social environments. Bracelets are sent to registrants in lieu of traditional tickets and can be read at access points to allow entry into VIP areas, Campgrounds, speciality programs, etc… without the bother of physical passes that can be easily lost of damaged. Bracelets also increasingly serve as a method of payment, as festival goers load cash onto their individual festival “account” and can purchase and participate within the event without having to worry about carrying physical currencies.

An upcoming festival in Belgium, Tomorrowland, is taking festival technology to an extreme – pushing past the merely functional needs of attendees and integrating social elements of the event environment into the bracelet itself. The bracelet, like many others will still serve as an electronic ticket granting entry into the festival. However, once inside the festival it becomes a part of the social experience itself. Users are able to link their facebook account and contact information with their festival account, and when you’ve made a new acquaintance at the event – you simply put the bracelets side by side, select the “heart” icon, and your information is transferred to the other attendee. This allows people to connect past the moment, and potentially arrange meet-ups throughout other days and times at the event – or to build long term friendships without the hassle of a more traditional information exchange. The bracelets pass information using RFID technology and can transmit the data to/from the nearest bracelet.

Additionally, brands have begun getting into the wearable technology trends – giving out bracelets that are branded and track activity to reward certain behaviors. At the 2014 SXSW festival, wearable wristbands measured realtime audience interaction and rewarded people who were dancing at a Pepsi sponsored event. They used realtime information from the lightwave technology to adjust sound levels, lighting and temperature on the fly to manipulate the user’s real-time experience. Another brand quickly getting into the smart bracelet trend is Spotify, which enabled attendees at Tomorrowland to record a soundbite of their favorite songs – and automatically import them into their Spotify playlists to bookmark for future listening or share with friends. As mentioned in Critical Thinking’s Manifesto, Theses on Making in the Digital Age, the makers of this wearable technology are allowing a very futuristic vision of interaction to come to life. Those employing this technology are ‘bending reality’ to the use of which ‘they will’ to be true.

The options for wearable technology converging with live events seem to be endless, but it also begs many a question around privacy and the dangers of real-time bulk data collection. With so many various brands plugging into an API that is quite literally feeding your every action to event coordinators, sponsors and 3rd parties the potential for abuse becomes much more realistic and threatening.

May 092014
 
Historic Chalk Board and teaching stick

Historic Chalk Board and teaching stick

What could wearable technology do for teachers? As a former six year middle/ high school teacher and coach I can recall times where I was put in a place of fear from false and frivolous accusations from a student with nothing but my character and integrity to defend me. Through the struggle of vindication I thought that teachers should have a high tech defense mechanism to prevent malicious future events. A taboo issue that pops ups sporadically in nightly news, yet always shocking, are the inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. Not only would a wearable possibly diffuse situations of ‘my word against yours,’ but it would serve as an accountability resource when unknown offenders implant themselves within a school environment. I could only imagine the innocence that could be spared on account of social facilitation being monitored by a wearable.

In my own experience as a teacher, innovative technology was an expertise of mine. I would dream up something between google glass and Robocop. Not only for security and accountability, but I would think of review clips, resources for absent students, and even next year planning sessions all filed in video format. With products like Epiphany Eyewear and Memoto, technology is closer today rather than when I was watching

"Back in my day..."

“Back in my day…”

the Jetson’s in the 80s. However close we may be in the wearable world we still lack the progressive progress within the realm of privacy implications and policy. What could wearable technology do to the education system if all participants felt watched all the time? Would a Panoptic situation ensue? Who would have authority over the data? Would it really be a solution at the cost of the negatives in feeling watched all the time?

Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Hartford, as well as Fort Worth, Tex.; Chesapeake, Va.; and Modesto, Calif.  would be a great point of reference to Daniel Gomezstart. They have begun issuing wearable video cameras as a part of the standard uniform for police. These serve the same purposes that I found lacking resources in my teaching career. Each department have set up policies for when the camera should be activated and who has access to the video. Overall, wearable technology has a huge contributions for individuals who work with the general population, especially teachers who sometimes are in the trenches against students, parents, and even administrators. Had I been wearing a form of wearable technology I could have been spared the embarrassment of all of my students writing a written statement of me breaking up a racially charged fight ‘rugby style’ with the ‘two boys under each arm’ escorting them to the office.  In my wearable dreams I would have turned to the distraction, activated the video and said “smile your on camera.”

 

Sources

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/business/wearable-video-cameras-for-police-officers.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.komonews.com/news/national/Questions-that-arise-when-placing-cameras-on-cops-250461101.html

 

 

May 062014
 
Facebook+Oculus Rift Photo Illustration: Jason Foral

What Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR means – Photo Illustration: Jason Foral

We previously reported on virtual reality hardware company Oculus VR before its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook was announced on March 25. With the Federal Trade Commission approving the acquisition in late April and the impending deal closure, many people are wondering why the biggest social media website acquired a virtual reality headset developer and what this means for their social media experience.

Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.” – Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an official press release, 3.25.2014

On the surface, the Oculus acquisition is more confusing than Facebook’s other recent acquisition of mobile message application WhatsApp. Oculus VR positioned itself in the marketplace as an innovative 3D gaming headset developer and Facebook was hardly known as a hub of gaming activity outside of numerous casual games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, games that any layperson would know requires no fancy immersive VR headset. Instead, Facebook is looking beyond gaming and sees virtual reality technology as a compelling candidate for the next transformative social and communications platform. This technology has broad potential applications in many other industry verticals, including media and entertainment, and education. Continue reading »

Mar 022014
 
Law and order logo

Law and order logo

The show Law and Order aired an episode this month called Comic Perversion.  Summed up the episode is about a comic known for his satirical rapist jokes and is then accused of rape.  The victim turns out to be a poor witness and a concerned female citizen attempts to trap the comic by posing as a woman who wants to sleep with him.

In order to trap the comedian she used glasses with a camera embedded inside the frame.  Here’s the so what.  We all have an expectation that the police will not come to our house without due cause.  I have an expectation that the police or the government will not record me or my family in the privacy of my own home, but because of new media, including wearable media, I feel like I should not have expectation that I will be recorded my anyone and everyone. My friends can come into my house and record me, I can go to a local coffee shop and not be sure if someone sitting on a stool is recording me.  I have no expectation that what happens in the privacy in my home may not belong to me because I have a nosy neighbor who may using a recording device trained at my door and windows.

I am an artist and take pictures and write stories everyday.  What if I am out writing a new screenplay at the library and someone uses their recording device to look over my shoulder and steal my idea?  What happens to my right to intellectual property?

I am no longer convinced I am safe, secure, protected, and supported by the law and that’s the so what.

Dec 192013
 

jacketThroughout my first semester as an EMAC major, the topic of “value judgments” has somehow managed to come up in discussion at least once (often multiple times) within every course that I’ve enrolled in. A value judgment, in the context that I am referring, can be defined as “an estimate, usually subjective, of the worth, quality, goodness, evil, etc., of something or someone..” In other words, it is placing judgment upon something (or someone) that you really don’t know anything about, without regard for the point of view of others. This topic is one that I’ve always felt strongly about, and I’ve learned through multiple discussions at UTD that many other students feel the same way. But somehow, regardless of the fact that no one seems to agree with placing value judgments upon one another, people continue to do it anyway.  It is almost as if it is an instinctual reaction.

So I decided to make a wearable media project that could somehow demonstrate how wrong these value judgments can be. The topic that I chose for these value judgments is music. Music is something that almost everyone can relate to on some level. Age, race, gender, culture, or geographic location does not affect whether or not someone listens to music or not. I personally have never met anyone in my lifetime that did not enjoy some form of music. My 82 year old Czechoslovakian grandmother sure does love her polka albums! But she also won’t hesitate to tell me that the music I listen to is just worthless noise. Value judgment alert!

Music stirs our emotions. That’s why we listen to it. But we’re all individuals who have led different lives and had different experiences. So it only makes sense that it will take different types of music to stir each unique individual’s emotions.  This sounds simple and logical enough when you read it, right? But I’d be willing to bet that it wouldn’t take you more than a few moments to recall a time when someone you know (or maybe even you) has placed judgment on the music that someone else listens to, because it just sounds like “noise”, and for whatever reason, some people automatically deem anything that they do not like as worthless, without regard for the fact that it could be worth so much more to someone else.

You can read more about music and emotion here: http://www.psychologyofmusic.co.uk/mechanisms.html

So I’ve designed a jacket that visually displays the emotional value of music that is played in its vicinity. Deciding exactly how to gauge this value was difficult. My lack of medical training prevents me from plugging anything into the wearer’s brain for a completely accurate reading. And my financial restrictions kept me from being able to implement something simpler, like a heart monitor, to read emotional response. So I was limited to only implementing a microphone to “hear” the music, and I depended on information gathered by others  about how the rhythm or beats of music affect the brain and how brain activity increases when musical stimuli becomes more intense (or loud). I then used symbolism to visually link these rhythmic brain responses to emotion with a sequence of electroluminescent wires that light up with the rhythm and intensity of music the microphone hears. This method worked well for me. I’m a writer, and somewhat of a literature buff, so I think the whole world revolves around symbolism anyway.

Inverter

EL Secquencer

The most difficult challenge for me during construction was the interference from the inverter to the microphone. Electroluminescent wire only responds to an alternating current. But the microcontroller, an EL Sequencer, runs on a direct current. This requires a DC to AC inverter to provide power to the EL wires. This type of inverter generates a high pitched squealing noise. It is barely audible to the ear, but the microphone seemed to always pick it up. I even tried moving the inverter as far away from the mic as possible, but the amount of interference didn’t seem to change at all. So I believe that the interference is actually coming through the wiring in the circuit. I tried using different types of wire, as well, but this also did not help.

My last resort was to set a threshold in my code that told the EL wire not to light up unless it picks up sounds louder than the interference. This led to another problem, because the level of interference is spikey and irregular, and seems to be slightly different each time the inverter is turned on. If I set the threshold too high, the microphone and EL wires aren’t responsive enough to music. But if I set it too low, they seem to randomly respond and flicker for no reason. So I have to find the “sweet spot” to set the threshold to. And that sweet spot is likely to change the next time I turn the inverter on. So I end up having to change up my code a little bit with each use. After days upon days of troubleshooting, I never could find a way around that. I did, however, find a helpful fix for the minor spiking during use. I coded a counter that gathers several microphone readings per second, and the EL wires respond to the average output of those readings. This is helpful for averaging out the random interference spikes. (Credit: Harrison is the best TA ever!)

RainbowAs for the overall design of the jacket, I made several choices based on symbolism and aesthetics. I chose a rainbow (ROYGBV) sequence for the EL wires. Rainbow is typically associated with happiness, and while not all music is happy, it does emotionally fulfill us in some way, and that makes us happy. I wrapped the wires around the chest because the heart is the part of the body that we generally link our emotions to. I decided having the wires on the outside of the jacket was too harsh on the eyes and not very visually appealing. So instead I decided to place them on the inside of the jacket, and chose white as the jacket’s color so that the light could shine through more easily. This also gives the appearance of a diffused internal glow, instead of a harsh outer one, which I thought to be more fitting for a symbolic representation of emotion.

In conclusion, my project was ultimately a success. I’d definitely be much happier with it if it didn’t need to be reconfigured before each use. But it works, and as someone who had literally zero coding OR sewing experience before Fashioning Circuits, that’s all I could possibly hope for.

dark

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.