Monthly Archives: April 2012

Wearable Technologies Conference, Messe München, Germany

How time flies! I wrote up my highlights for WT – Wearable Technologies Conference back in February and forgot to post them. This is a cut-down version of my original notes as I had a gazillion pages – I think less is more in this case, so here is a little insight as to what I saw and heard about…

Smart phone apps and integration were a dominant feature of many presentations and products shown at January’s WT Conference held at Messe München, Germany. I also noted we saw quite a few examples of wearable technology by several companies and speakers presented in bracelet / band form factor, which made me wonder – is this going to be the most popular way of packaging wearable technology for the consumer market for the next couple of years?

Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

A jam-packed day of presentations made it difficult to select my highlights, but my personal shortlist included Dr Paul Lukowicz’s keynote on ‘From Cyborgs to Smart Phones’ where he posed the question ‘So has the smart phone killed the wearable?’ he answered his own question by stating ‘no’ and that the smart phone has made the public ‘ripe for wearable systems’, such as sport and health apps for starters. He described how he thought wearable technology should be ‘ambient’ and be performing tasks in the background whilst the user gets on with their life. He concluded that it’s an exciting time for wearable technology because ‘the public accepts the need for it and so it has the potential to be huge’.

I definitely concur, with Paul that smart phones have made an excellent ‘in’ for the mainstream public to get into and used to integrating wearable technology into their lives. Also that ambient systems, for example monitoring one’s blood pressure or diary continually in the background and only alerting the wearer/user when they need to be informed is one of the biggest advantages of us being able to wear powerful, small computers.

David Icke on electronics anywhere at Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

David Icke talked about stretchable, conformal electronics on the human body and the challenges of rigid and brittle electronics that historically don’t bend and stretch, thus making it difficult to produce comfortable wearable technology that stretches and moves with the wearer’s body. He showed an example of stretchable epidermal electronics that could be used for sensing vitals signs, track the user’s voice, as well as having potential for gaming use. He summarised that electronics worn on and inside the body will revolutionise fitness and healthcare.

Less rigid and sharp electronics are definitely essential for making wearable electronics viable – plus they also need to be light and washable and the power management (batteries) aspect needs to be solved as soon as possible – it would be great if we were a bit further ahead with power harvesting technologies for the wearer.

Horst Merkle drivers for telehealth slide, Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

Michaela Klinger discussed how to make the best of smart phone technologies in Telehealth, plus how necessary standards are for medical wearable technology, giving examples such as how the Continua Health Alliance aims to do this. She also made the point that technology for health needs to be secure and if you’re a company thinking of starting out in Telehealth you should be prepared for the most stringent testing via the Medical Device Directive.

For me the most interesting part of Micheala’s talk was around standards and directives, as you can imagine with all this blossoming technology for health, areas such as privacy and storage of data are of paramount importance – as well as secure systems so the technology itself can’t be hacked. Plus it’s obvious that we need stringent standards & guidelines for technology that regulates something as crucial to the wearer as an insulin pump or a pacemaker. There were three presentations in the afternoon about various approaches to tackling diabetes via wearable technology and it was very interesting so observe how their technology varied and what safeguards were built into them, plus the sustainability of the products and how comfortable they looked. It also seemed very prudent that with various systems being developed, some kind of interoperability was needed.

Jerry K Joseph, early insulin pump slide, Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

I enjoyed my trip to München, for WT Conference, there seemed to be a lot of convergence of ideas and great company from colleagues and friends I’d met at previous companies. Overall I came away still extremely excited about developments in wearable technology and 2012 is definitely the year that wearable technology will go mainstream. I’d definitely go again.

Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

Wearable Technology Bootcamp with LilyPad Arduino – Technocamps, Aberystwyth

Seren's LED kitties

Since last December, Sophie McDonald (usually of Mz-TEK) and I have been plotting a 3-day wearable technology bootcamp with Emma Posey and Hannah Dee (who’s also blogged here) of Technocamps for 11-19 year-old students in Aberystwyth.

End of day 1 Lilypad Arduino circuit ideas

Technocamps is a £6 million project led by Swansea University in partnership with the Universities of Bangor, Aberystwyth and Glamorgan to inspire young people aged 11-19 to attend workshops on computing-based subject such as wearable technology, robotics, game development, animation, digital forensics and more. Their long-term goal is to encourage young people to pursue careers in an area that will drive economic growth in Wales, which I’m all up for helping with.

Sophie and I put together a 3-day wearable technology schedule introducing electronics via the LilyPad Arduino sewable microcontroller environment, plus coding via C programming language sketches, which drive the inputs and outputs of the LilyPad Arduino.

The three-day bootcamp attended by approximately twenty-one 11-14 year-olds, with Sophie, Hannah & myself leading and helping the students through the workshops. I did a kick-off presentation to introduce some existing projects and aspects regarding the broad range and applications of wearable technology – plus the notion of only being limited by one’s imagination! Also some info on the ease of availability of suitable components and the supportive nature of the Maker community, tutorial sites and forums for young creators interested in finding out more after the workshops.

Introducing LilyPad Arduino

Day One: of the workshops began with a look at the LilyPad Arduino microcontroller, followed by the Arduino programming IDE (Integrated Development Environment). We moved on to getting an LED (Light Emitting Diode) to light up and blink from the LilyPad with a bit of coding. In the afternoon we played around with series and parallel LEDs on a breadboard with some more playing with code. We were delighted to see some of the students having fun with up to 14 blinking LEDs on their circuits!

Introducing the LilyPad Arduino

Day Two: looked at creating an LDR (Light Dependent Resistor) circuit that would light an LED, a little more challenging, but by the end of the day, all the students had a working circuit that they then tweaked to become a light switch – by noting the serial data and reflecting it in their code.

Day Three: we leapt straight into designing our circuits for sewing onto fabric with the LilyPad Arduino, the students worked out their own designs for circuits and components, plus coded them accordingly. We had some fabulous compositions and designs. When parents and guardians came to inspect the fruits of the three-day bootcamp at the end of the day, they all seemed very pleased with the results, plus we gave out some certificates.

I feel that the wearable technology workshops using the LilyPad Arduino are a fantastic introduction into electronics and coding for young people. All the students were amazingly enthusiastic and persevered to grasp concepts new to them, plus they were able to have fun and incorporate their own design input into circuits, plus modifying and playing with code.

The students were all very keen and were so engrossed in their work they genuinely didn’t want the workshops to finish. They took their work home with them, plus a sheet of helpful links to help them carry on their own. Hannah also set up a group for Arduino in Aberystwyth (I’ll find the link and add later).

Aled's arm Arduino

Eighty percent of the students were girls and I’m pleased to say that any preconceived ideas that have been banded about in the past of electronics / coding being more suitable pursuits for boys did not ring true at all – all the girls took to both disciplines of electronics and coding like ducks to proverbial water and there was no difference in the support needed for boys vs. girls for these workshops. Also on the other foot, the boys took to sewing and textiles without batting an eyelid – also dismissing more stereotypes around gender.

To summarise, I feel that wearable technology via LilyPad Arduino is a great way for students and people, whatever age and background, to enjoy an introduction to electronics and coding. I feel what may have been missing or miss-interpreted in the past is the real need to have a reason or fun pursuit for participating and personalising in the pursuit of electronics and coding – once people have a project or reason to make something they’ll enjoy using, they’re off!

For me it was very rewarding three days of workshops all round, we have a few tweaks to make to the workshops and slides which we’re going to do as soon as we have our breath back.

Ben's LED LilyPad piece