Dec 082014
 
Ariana Berdy's circuits project. A felt strawberry cake

Photo by Ariana Berdy

As a busy college student I often forget or don’t have time to eat. Often times I have observed that society in general gets so wrapped up in the things that they are doing or need to get done that they place a minimal importance on eating. This food-comes-second lifestyle is unhealthy. Making a habit of skipping meals can lead to negative consequences such as physical fatigue; mental exhaustion; and , when you finally do eat, overeating and calorie loading (Skipping meals can have negative consequences).

In response to the “food comes second” way of life I have created a project that directly deals with a person’s relationship to their meals. My project idea is to create a “health bar” or “fuel indicator” for a person to wear. This indicator acts as a timer. The timer measures the time from their last meal or snack and counts down to when the wearer’s next meal should be. The health bar then visually represents the drain of energy as time passes between meals. Continue reading »

Nov 222014
 

The Metamorphosis line from Younghui Kim is a clothing line that detects alcohol levels in its wearers. A female dress responds to the wearer’s level of alcohol consumption through the use of colorful lights and expanding sleeves, while a male’s blazer responds by an expanding collar that slides out to cover the wearer’s face.

The project is meant to express the impact alcohol has on a person’s self-esteem, and was specifically focused on the role of drinking in Korean society. The interesting point of the project is the grounds for its creation. When first exposed to an article on Bustle, the title “A Dress that Detects when You’re Drunk? Younghuo Kim’s Wearable Tech will Draw Attention to the Fact that you’re Sloshed” I was left with the initial impression that the project was intended to act as a deterrent to over indulgence. After further reading, I have come to the realization that it is not technology meant to support sobriety, but rather as commentary on the way in which drinkers interact, and are perceived in social situations.

Apparently, social drinking in Korea is viewed as an outlet for honesty, and Kim’s website absurdee.com notes that “with formality deeply set in society, people are often shy to express what they really think soberly” (Kim, 2014). I find this interesting because it raises the question as to how a person should interpret the opinion of another. It almost seems that Kim is suggesting that the views of a person who has been drinking should carry more weight than those of someone who has not. While it is often said in vino veritas, people in western society are often heard explaining their actions by blaming alcohol. I have heard “I had been drinking” when responding to questions about a late-night conversation from the night before. It is not to say that there is not truth in wine, but it is interesting to note the social differences surrounding the conversation of honesty and alcohol. Would a project such as Kim’s have any impact on the perception of a person’s words, or even more importantly, should it?

It seems that in fashion, it is not uncommon to see someone wearing a particular item because of the statement it is making. One could wonder what the statement an item from the Metamorphosis project is making. In western culture, would it be viewed as an excuse? In Korea, would it be seen as a reason to pay extra attention to the wearer’s words and actions, because they are in fact being honest? It is also interesting to note that the female’s version of this project draws attention to the wearer, but the male’s blazer is designed to hide the wearer’s face. It is almost as if Kim is saying that when drinking a female is empowered, yet when a man drinks the best course of action is to keep his mouth shut and hide from the public. While this may not be the actual intent of the project, it is reminiscent of the points made by Joanne Entwistle in “Fashion and Gender.” Entwistle notes that in fashion “clothing does more than simply draw attention to the body and emphasize bodily signs of difference. It works to imbue the body with significance, adding layers of cultural meanings” (Entwistle, 2000). In the case of the Metamorphosis project, this seems to be taken to an entirely new level. It is not just the appearance of the articles of clothing, but it is the way in which these articles interact with the wearer. Would a woman who identifies as male require the same response from the item, or would she be exempted from “hiding” because she is a woman? Would a man who identifies as female be empowered by the influence of alcohol on his self-esteem?

One cannot argue that the project is interesting, but does seem to be ambiguous as to its intent. At first glance Kim seems to be making a statement in regards to the relationship between social interaction and alcohol consumption, but after a closer look there seems to be a not so subtle commentary on gender roles in social situations. The social implications of the project could be immense, but it also seems likely that the message from the item could easily be unclear. The technology seems far more likely to be relevant if gender is taken out of the equation, and the same response is generated no matter the sex of the wearer. Metamorphosis should simply provide the visual signal, and leave the interpretation of the situation up to the observer.

References

Entwistle, J. (2000). Fashion and Gender. In The fashioned body: Fashion, dress, and modern social theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

abdurdee.com

Nov 172014
 

Post by: Nilufer Arsala

undercover colors

Photo credit:http://www.undercovercolors.com/

“Undercover Colors” is a brand of nail polish that was developed by four North Carolina State University undergrads. According to the Washington Post  the brand’s premise is nail polish that changes color when it detects date rape drugs, mainly Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB. The product isn’t on the market yet and there doesn’t seem to be any word on a release date for sale to the public. The company’s website shows a logo and slogan along with links to Undercover Colors’ social media pages, email and research donation fund.  A quick look at Undercover Colors’ Facebook page reveals a bit more of the happenings behind the scenes, with reference to the product in the research and development phase.

“Thank you for your interest in our company! At this point, we are early in the development of our product and we do not have any photos of the nail polish. However, we were planning on doing a media push in the not-too-distant future, once we have a demonstrable prototype." - Undercover Colors Representative Mock up and quote from: SlashGear- 8/22/2014

“Thank you for your interest in our company! At this point, we are early in the development of our product and we do not have any photos of the nail polish. However, we were planning on doing a media push in the not-too-distant future, once we have a demonstrable prototype.” – Undercover Colors Representative
Mock up and quote from: SlashGear- 8/22/2014

Since the product is still in research and development, there’s little information at the time of this posting about some aspects of the polish. What colors the polish will come in and how much it will cost don’t seem to be addressed by the company, suggesting Undercover Colors hasn’t progressed that far. Some controversy also surrounds this product.

Undercover Colors’ slogan , located on the company’s website is “The First Fashion Company Empowering Women to Prevent Sexual Assault.” In a way, the company does that. By swirling a polished fingernail in her glass, a woman can tell if her drink contains drugs commonly used by perpetrators of date rape. It has been pointed out that this product actually adds to rape culture by placing responsibility back on the woman to keep herself safe, as opposed to teaching men not to rape.  Also, the polish only reacts when coming into contact with certain drugs. The limited number of drug reactions could give women a false sense of security when screening drinks.

Photo credit: Feministing.com

Photo credit: Feministing.com

As a fashion accessory, this nail polish does what normal polish does. It adds to someone’s personal definition of “cool” as discussed in Luke Russell’s Effortless Cool. As a safety mechanism Undercover Colors seems to fall short. It is a daunting task to toe-the-line between perpetuating rape culture and trying to help women protect themselves from violence. The male college students that created this product could use a bit more education on the topic of date rape. Overall they seem to forget that date rape doesn’t just happen at bars or under the effects of drugs.

Links:
https://www.k-state.edu/media/webzine/Didyouhearyes/daterapefacts.html
http://www.undercovercolors.com/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sophia-kerby/what-undercover-colors-gets-all-wrong-about-date-rape_b_5722724.html
http://www.newsweek.com/controversy-over-nail-varnish-date-rape-drug-detector-267126
https://www.facebook.com/undercovercolors/info?tab=page_info
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/26/students-develop-nail-polish-to-detect-date-rape-drugs/

Nov 162014
 

Academic Malcom Barnard begins his article “Etymologies and Definitions of Fashion and Clothing” with the definition of etymology, and then goes on to take a look at the various meanings of the word fashion. Through this scrutiny, Barnard offers value to the reader that other academics would, perhaps, miss. As wearable technology occupies a greater portion of the public’s mind share, it need also fall under greater scrutiny. Evgeny Morozov’s 2013 book, To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, provides a starting point for such a critique. In an interview with the Economist, Morozov defines Solutionism as the, “…shallow and simplistic attitude towards defining problems as problems.” More specifically, technology becomes a quick and easy means to resolving complex problems. In doing so, the application of technology oversimplifies a problem to the point of obscuring the issue at hand.

BodyGuard Blanket via Protecht

One example of this is Protecht BodyGuard Blanket. The company attempts to solve the problem of school shootings by offering a bullet resistant blanket. Protecht cites the increasing number of school shootings, and claim that the situation will only get worse. They also highlight the ineffective results of previous attempts to address the same problem. In the face of a serious issue that seems deadlocked, the BodyGuard Blanket is a simple and relatively inexpensive solution that can be implemented immediately. Leaving aside the emotional blackmail of the “think of the children” argument, gun control is an issue that strikes at the heart of the American identity. As the second most important freedom to the founding fathers, the Bill of Rights specifically grants the right to bear arms. Any question of protecting or limiting this right should be left to policy makers enacting the will of the people rather than  a small technology company. Morozov opines, “As our technological infrastructure gets better, as it becomes easier to offload some of the problem solving from governments and agencies to citizens, they will no longer be presented as two equal alternatives. We will be relying on private means of problem solving through apps, and they will introduce a different kind of politics. A different kind of scale of politics”

If society turns to companies like Protecht to solve divisive questions such as gun control, then the problem will be portrayed as much simpler than it truly is. Products like the BodyGuard Blanket leave little to no room for nuance. Protecht, like all corporations, is looking to maximize their profits. Thus, they offer a product which aims to appeal to gun advocates and those who do not want to see another tragic outcome from the misuse of guns. When problems are painted in such broad strokes, it becomes harder to think critically. Because of this, Solutionism in the form of the BodyGuard Blanket does not address gun rights at all. The fundamental questions that loomed before society still remain; they are now reframed in such a way that society believes that they are no longer problems. More broadly, what are the consequences when society seeks solutions for public problems by private means? For all of its flaws, government is not constrained by shareholder pressure to maximize profits. Instead, government does not have to justify their decisions on return on investment; rather, they can pursue actions based on the public good. Our rights and responsibilities should exist because of public discourse and the legal process, not because some product was developed in light of Solutionism.

 

Sources:

Oct 202014
 

By: Ashleigh Havens

In September 2013, Israeli start-up company OrCam released the OrCam visual system to help the 300-million visually impaired people in the world “see.” OrCam is a portable device that is similar to Google Glass, composed of a camera and a small computer about the size of the typical glasses case that uses augmented reality. The device attaches by magnet to users’ glasses. OrCam is able to recognize text, products and even familiar faces. At the push of a button or a point of your finger, OrCam recognizes objects, and will read you information through the bone conducting earpiece. This device has a transducer that converts electric signals into mechanical vibrations which sends sound to the internal ear through the cranial bones. This makes the audio discrete so others do not realize you are receiving assistance. Through extended use, OrCam will recognize your personal objects such as credit cards, money notes, friends, favorite products, and more. Using this device helps the visually impaired to become more independent and relaxed about interacting with the world.

This product currently sells for $3,500. There is a possibility for reimbursement if it is covered by your vision insurance plan. Some vision insurance plans, usually premium plans will have limited funding for assistive devices. Most of the time this reimbursement is on a case by case basis. There are grants that you can apply for that you can use toward the cost of the OrCam device.

As with many new technological advances, this device has some faults. First of all, it is only available in the United States and the only language it supports is English. As this product advances the company hopes to make it capable of translating language and available to a wider audience. The OrCam does not recognize handwritten text.

Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykDDxWbt5Nw&feature=youtu.be

www.orcam.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CyW04lSd4Y

Oct 132014
 

By: Thomas Hall

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)

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 »

Dec 192013
 

The idea behind my final wearable project is solve to a problem that I face almost everyday: forgetting something important at home. I often find myself in the checkout line at the store without my wallet or getting lost on the road without my phone. If you’re a forgetful person like me, this may be the answer for you.

My concept was to design a device that will make sure that I have all of my essentials items with me before I walk out of the door. The wearable object is a bracelet that alerts the user if he/she walks out the door without and important item. The bracelet would be unobtrusive and neutral so that it’s good for everyday wear. The other components of the system will include tags to place on the items that you want to keep track of and a reader that is stationed near the door that detects if all of your items are present when you leave the house. When the reader detects that an item is missing, it will communicate this to the bracelet, which would alert the use through blinking lights, vibration or sound. Each item will be assigned to a unique tag and a colored light on the bracelet, allowing the system and user to know which item(s) the user is forgetting.

Originally I planned for the system to utilize Arduino micro controllers that would communicate wirelessly through RFID. In my initial research, RFID looked like the best and most inexpensive solution for my project. As I was looking to purchase supplies though, I found that long range (1m-25m) RFID technology is quite expensive. As an alternative, I used Bluetooth to wirelessly connect the Arduinos. I found a some asset tracking solutions such as Tile and Bikn that utilize Bluetooth signals to allow users to locate tagged items from their mobile devices. Since this project did not require long distance communication, Bluetooth was the next best idea. Continue reading »