Category Archives: smart fabrics

Smart Textiles Salon 2013, MIAT Museum, Ghent

Smart Textiles Salon - Textile Matrix Sensor by Riccardo Marchesi

Smart Textiles Salon 2013 was the third bi-annual event organised by Department of Textiles at Ghent University. It was held aptly in the lovely MIAT (Museum of Industrial Archaeology and Textiles), a former cotton mill in Ghent, Belgium. Designers, researchers, artists, engineers, makers and companies, who create and research wearable electronics and e-textiles, traveled from all over the globe to exhibit their work and give approximately (I lost count) thirty presentations during the course of the day.

I took my Baroesque Barometric Skirt along to show and gave a presentation on how and why I made it, the materials I used and the challenges around creating the electronics and code. Below are my slides and an overview:

The Baroesque Skirt creates a unique visualisation for each place I visit, which changes depending on the environmental conditions of the day and my own physiology. It visualises data from four sensors, three of them are environmental: temperature, pressure and altitude, the forth is a temperature sensor that sits on the inside of the skirt and pulls in my body temperature. I’m interested in how I can display my physical data alongside that of the ‘bigger picture’ of elements that I am surrounded by. I made a bespoke skirt for this project due to the way I wanted the RGB LED strip to display from inside. The components are sewn into a removable components substrate apron, which I made because I also want to be able to show the bespoke crafting of the electronics separately, plus I wanted to make it easy to wash the skirt. The apron is held in the middle of the skirt fabric and lining layer by Velcro, with a fitted pocket to hold the 12V battery pack. The skirt has hand painted Okami characters, which incorporate weather designs that entwine with the RGB LEDs underneath. I’ve written the code to drive the components in C, with the inclusion of the Wiring library and the example code library for the BMP085 barometric sensor which does all the complex calculations to convert readings to °C (Celsius), Pa (Pascal) and m (meter) readings. If you want to find out more, see my write up about it.

Presenting my Baroesque Barometric Skirt

We set up our exhibits the night before, as the show day was totally jam-packed with presentations and exhibits from the 9am start to finishing around 5pm. I really enjoyed moving around the hall at MIAT the hearing from the creators about each piece of work and how it was constructed. Every project was incredibly interesting and unique, here’s a quick overview of many of the projects to give you an idea of the broad range of work shown.

RUAH by Guilia Tomasello of Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti (NABA), is an interactive, geometric corset. I was impressed by the structure of the corset and intrigued by its workings. It’s driven by LilyPad Arduino, incorporating a stretch sensor and flexinol spring which inflates the central structure of the corset as the wearer breathes. The corset ‘helps people to learn the importance and benefits of deep diagrammatic breath’.

Smart Textiles Salon inside of RUAH breathing corset

Drapely-O-Lightment: An Interactive OLED Skirt, Solar Fiber: Proof of Concept and Hell–Well–Being: A Waste Conscious E-Scarf, are a collection of wearables that were shown by Aniela Hoitink, Meg Grant, Ralf Jacobs, Loe Feijs and Marina Toetersi from the Technical University of Eindhoven. I particularly liked their solar hat, incorporating a flexible photovoltaic solar fibre, which converts sunlight into electrical energy. The team are working on a photovoltaic yarn that can be worked into various fabrics, their approach is: ‘1. First and foremost, we are working on a photovoltaic fibre with a protective coating that will start life as a 5 mm fibre and eventually be extruded to 100µm. 2. Before we get there, we are working on proof of concept prototypes that will help to communicate our idea and show real life applications for the technology. Our current prototypes work via woven glass fibres that guide the light to tiny diodes with PV solar cells. In 5 years we hope to offer the world affordable solar fibres in a range of textile products for daily use’.

Solar Fibre proof of conept - Aneila Hoitnick, Meg Grant, Ralf Jacobs, Marina Toestersi

Pieterjan Aerts of Howest Kortrijk, Belgium, told us about his work with
organic photovoltaic cells integrated in smart shading. ‘The indoor shading is integrated with organic, flexible and lightweight photovoltaic cells. Energy harvesting as a building integrated photovoltaic and autonomous movement of the shading are the two main features which contribute to the added value of this smart shading.’ He demonstrated how controlling the shading results in getting an optimal angle for energy generation.

Smart Textiles Salon - Organic photovoltaic cells integrated in smart shading by Pieterjan Aerts of Howest Kortrijk

Transendense by Galina Mihaleva of Nanyang Technological University, Academy of Art, is ‘an interactive dress that communicates with its wearer by translating the body’s movement into a corresponding light pattern’. It uses a flex sensor that responds to body movement and reflects this in the pattern of an LED array. ‘The light is a metaphor for enlightenment and strives for passion’.

Smart Textiles Salon - Trasendense by Galina Mihaleva of Nanyang Technological University, Academy of Art

Riccardo Marchesi of INNTEX / plugandwear.com gave a talk on Textile Matrix Sensors. He explained how a low cost pressure sensor can be constructed using alternating conductive / non-conductive layers of fabric, plus a piezoelectric fabric layer, which when pressure is applied can detect and map x and y coordinates via a microcontroller. I can imagine lots of interesting uses for matrix sensors in textiles.

Smart Textiles Salon - Textile Matrix Sensor by Riccardo Marchesi

Functional Electronic Screen Printing – Electroluminescent Smart Fabric Watch, by Marc de Vos of the University of Southampton. A prototype digital watch on fabric, created using ‘screen-printed functional electronic pastes to produce the world’s first printed smart fabric watch’. I really liked the flexibility of these prototypes, especially for thinking about future possibilities for PCBs and electroluminescents around the body.

Smart Textiles Salon - Functional Electronic Screen Printing – Electroluminescent Smart Fabric Watch by Marc de Vos of University of Southampton

Jin Lam of the Institute of Textiles & Clothing, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, presented Do You Feel Me? A pair of illuminative smart fashion dress prototypes ‘that could react and present various visual communications regarding the changing environmental factors’. The garments incorporate electroluminescent panels that react to each other and illuminate via signals from various sensors, such as proximity, sound, heat humidity and pressure. I really enjoyed seeing all the detail of the intricate design for paneling of these garments in Jin’s slides.

Smart Textiles Salon - Do You Feel Me? A Pair of Illuminative Smart Fashion by Jin Lam of Institute of Textiles & Clothing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Smart clothing for challenging environments was represented by the work of Aurélie Cayla of the Engineering and Textile Materials Laboratory (GEMTEX), ENSAIT, in her Flexible Thermal Detector in Personal Protective Equipment for Fire Fighters (INTELTEX ‘ intelligent multifilament reactive textiles integrating nano filler based CPC-fiber’). Aurélie showed how heating up a fire fighter’s jacket would result in the detection of a high temperature and alert the wearer. Vera De Glas of Sioen showed us a high visibility softshell jacket that allows the user to regulate a heating system in the jacket for use in very cold conditions. Vera also demonstrated a high visibility jacket that had integrated LEDs for workers in dark conditions or caught in bad weather such as fog. Also on the subject of challenging environments, Tex-Vest – Human Traffic Light was presented by Jaka Plešec of Berlin Weißensee School of Art (KHB). Tex-Vest is intended for police in traffic situations, it translates and visualises hand traffic signals onto a large area of a vest that incorporates SMD LEDs, in red, green and yellow. This vest would be particularly useful in the dark or bad weather conditions.

Smart Textiles Salon - Flexible Thermal Detector in Personal Protective Equipment for Fire-Fighters (INTELTEX) by Aurélie Cayla of ngineering and Textile Materials Laboratory (GEMTEX), ENSAIT

Smart Textiles Salon - Tex-Vest - Human Traffic Light (+ demonstrator) by Jaka Plešec of Berlin Weißensee School of Art (KHB)

PeR+ (Perception Rug) by Eva Deckers of the University of Technology, Eindhoven, is an intelligent and interactive carpet, which is sensitive to touch and activity. It is sensitive to pressure and reflects interaction with light and can follow the movements of someone stepping upon it. The sensing and actuating components are integrated by hand into the carpet using twining and tufting techniques.

Smart Textiles Salon - PeR+ (Perception Rug on table) by Eva Deckers and HiVis Softshell Jacket with Integrated Heating System + HiVis Jacket with Integrated Light System by Vera De Glas / Ivan De Ceuninck / Johan Peirlinck of Sioen

Ramyah Gowrishankar of Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Finland, presented her intriguing Soft Radio, a palm-sized radio constructed from crocheted fabric. Ramyah is investigating opportunities for creating soft digital interfaces and the Soft Radio has some interesting approaches to the user interface, such as a knitted loop on top that one twists to change between volume and channel seeking modes. The volume and channel can be then changed by wrapping a knitted cord around the spherical radio. Ramyah’s doctoral research ‘aspires to develop an interaction language specific to the new medium of e-textiles, rather than borrowed from regular electronic devices’.

Smart Textiles Salon - Soft Radio Series by Ramyah Gowrishankar of Aalto University

TaSST: Tactile Sleeve for Social Touch by Aduén Darriba Frederiks of the Digital Life Center, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. The device is worn on the arm and consists of an input and output layer, the input layer being made from pads of conductive wool, from which changes of resistance are measured and then this controls the intensity of vibration motors in the output layer of a sleeve worn by another person. ‘By varying the location, duration and intensity of touches to the input layer, users can communicate different types of touch at a distance’.

Smart Textiles Salon - TaSST: Tactile Sleeve for Social Touch by Aduén Darriba Frederiks of Digital Life Center, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Barbro Scholz of Landeshauptstadt Munchen Kulturreferat exhibited Your Balance interactive textile jewelry, whose inspiration comes from insects. ‘It questions our passive acceptance of applications of control in our daily life and asks what we want textile user interfaces to be’. The system comprises of three textile sensors that monitor the movements of an employee, which are watched and used to control the employees work and life balance’. ‘ Are we like worker-bees, working efficiently towards the centre of the hive?’

Smart Textiles Salon

Strokes&Dots (3S&D) by Valérie Lamontagne of the Department of Design & Computation Arts, Concordia University, is inspired by early modernist representations of speed, graphic design, abstract art and technology. Her garments incorporate embroidered LEDs and motion or light sensors, the LEDs light up depending on the wearer’s movements or environment.

Smart Textiles Salon - Strokes&Dots by Valérie Lamontagne of Department of Design & Computation Arts, Concordia University

Bjorn Van Keymeulen of Ghent University showed some fascinating examples in his Lighting Applications with Woven Textiles as Substrates presentation. This included stretchable electronic circuits with a woven conductive yarn network and a fun demo of LEDs and conductive yarn fabric dunked into a tank of water to prove its insulation properties.

Smart Textiles Salon - Lighting Applications with Woven Textiles as Substrates by Bjorn Van Keymeulen, Ghent University

Eunjeong Jeon, Martijn ten Bhömer & Kristi Kuusk of the Technical University of Eindhoven, presented their Vibe-ing dress, which contains multiple pockets with connected modular vibration and captive touch sensing PCBs. They’re intended for use in stimulating specific areas of the body for rehabilitation and healing purposes. I was especially interested to hear about the construction of the PCBs that incorporated ATtiny microcontrollers.

Smart Textiles Salon - Vibe-ing by Technology University Eindhoven

Marjan Kooroshina of the Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås, exhibited her Dreaming Vase. ‘The Dreaming Vase is an object exemplifying my practice-based research project aiming to explore the creative design potential of mixing photoluminescent pigment with conventional textile pigment pastes in textile printing.’ It was interesting to see the difference in how the patterns looked in daylight and nighttime viewing.

Smart Textiles Salon - Dreaming-Vase by Marjan Kooroshina of Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås

Another project that intrigued me was Skweezees: Soft Objects that Sense their Shape Shifting by Luc Geurts of Group T’s Media Lab. A Skweezee is a deformable object, consisting of a soft, non-conductive, stretchy casing and inside amongst its stuffing has conductive steel wool. Resistance between electrodes on the outside calculate the magnitude of deformation of the object and users can record their own Skweezee gestures from this.

Smart Textiles Salon - Skweezees: Soft Objects that Sense their Shape Shifting by Luc Geurts of Group T's Media Lab

The SYSTEX student award was presented to Eef Lubbers of University of Technology, Eindhoven, for her Unlace interactive lace lingerie, which allows couples to connect by becoming more aware of touch and warmth via her lingerie that is painted with thermochromatic ink. The lingerie changes colour over time when touched and is intended to bring couples closer.

Smart Textiles Salon - SYSTEX Student Award 2012 Winner: UNLACE by Eef Lubbers of University of Technology, Eindhoven

For those interested in learning more about smart textiles, Carla Hertleer announced a fantastic new e-learning course from TRITex (Transfer of Research and Innovations in Textile). The course is divided into two modules and covers in module 1. functional and smart textile materials and module 2. covers smart textile systems.

Smart Textiles Salon - Carla Hertleer at Launch of TRITEX online learing module

The proceedings were filmed, so sometime soon you’ll be able to watch videos of the presentations. Thanks very much to the organisers Lina Rambausek Lieva Van Langenhove and Carla Hertleer for doing an outstanding job of putting the event together.

Smart Textiles Salon

MIAT Museum, Ghent

Nano4Design – Nanoforce, QMUL

Intelligent Nanocomposite Fibre for Sensing Prof Ton Peijs, Professor of Materials, QMUL

On 28th February I gave a talk (slides below) at the Nano4Design workshop at Nanoforce, QMUL, a day of presentations and networking around the convergence of design (mainly textiles at this event) and nanotechnologies, which was chaired by Dr Martin Kemp of NanoKTN. Nano4Design is a focus group to bring together the design and nanotechnologies communities together.

I really enjoyed the presentations, which have definitely expanded my knowledge on nanotechnologies in the field of textiles. I made tons of notes and below are my summaries of the talks.

Prof Ton Peijs, Centre for Materials Research, QMUL, kicked off the presentations with a keynote on intelligent nanocomposite fibre for sensing. He talked about intelligent fibres for smart textiles, that included sensors, actuators and touched on conductive materials to make strain sensors. Part of his talk focused on the process of manufacturing yarns and using nanotubes in polymers, to make a high strength nano-reinforced fibre.

Intelligent Nanocomposite Fibre for Sensing Prof Ton Peijs, Professor of Materials, QMUL

Bill Macbeth, Textile Centre of Excellence, talked about Yorkshire’s Textile Innovation Programme, whose aims include developing and delivering training to meet the changing needs of industry, as well as feasibility studies, industrial research, experimental development. He mentioned projects such as combating counterfeiting in textiles and looking at provenance for textiles made in Yorkshire using DNA profile of dyes as proof that cannot be washed out, is cost effective and are acceptable as evidence. Bill also talked about nano-enhanced textiles and fascinating 3D weaving machines that were capable of making very strong woven structures for automotive and aerospace.

Professor Janis Jefferies of Goldsmiths College, U. of London, gave a talk on the Wearable Absence project. It is a system of wearable devices that incorporate wireless technologies and bio-sensing devices such as temperature, heart rate, respiration and GSR (galvanic skin response) sensors. The sensors collect data to analyse the wearer’s emotional state and in turn to activate a database of images and sounds, creating a narrative or series of messages to evoke memories of an absent person. This is done via speakers in the garment’s hood or shoulder seams, scrolling text on an LED array, or video and photos.

My talk, ‘Sensors for e-textiles creatives’ discussed how cheaply available electronic components, microcontrollers, plus the evolution of hacker / maker culture and its expanding communities are causing a boom in interest in coding and electronics from new sections of society, from kids to crafts people to new ways of approaching tech start-ups for creatives. Plus how these new approaches are changing the way designers and artists are able to create work. New considerations to how electronics are designed, such as the sewable microcontroller, the LilyPad Arduino, means electronics no longer have to be seen as cold, sharp, grey and dull and hidden inside work! I showed some examples of my wearable electronics work, which incorporates electronic components and e-textiles into the design of garments and artworks.

Richard Holman, materials technologist, talked about the D30 company portfolio in terms of shock absorption and impact technologies for footwear to motorcycle applications, personal protective equipment such as a riot suit used by the French Gendarmerie and snow board protection. D30 is a composite material comprising of several polymers. He said that ‘the key concept is sensitivity of dilated material that retains flexibility ‘.

Ellie Runcie of the Design Council, talked about the positives of connecting designers with companies to help define and resolve problems. How good design is concerned with what people need, what is technically possible and what is financially possible. She gave an example of a company working in nanotechnology that was struggling to define their business, but with expertise they were helped to develop their brand and applications for various audiences, which turned the company’s fortunes around and they went on to secure funding and become successful.

Accelerating Ideas to Market Through Design, Ellie Runcie, Design Council

Professor Raymond Oliver, Northumbria University, School of Design, talked about several areas around smart materials and technology, using examples such as the changing economic landscape over time and impact. For example, how the digital / physical fusion of embedding intelligent technologies into social environments can be mapped against assets, phases and aspects of a one’s life, which makes for human centered technology. He warned us though that ‘progress is slower than prediction’.

Olivier Picot, PhD researcher at QMUL told us about the production of reflective fibres for smart textile applications, using novel techniques to obtain visual effects based on diffraction and/or reflection of light. This is done via a bi-component fibre system where the fibre (natural or synthetic) is coated with a functional layer of liquid crystal, which gives it new properties, such as changing colour and appearance as a consequence of strain and environmental input.

Production of Reflective Fibres for Smart Textile Applications Oliver Picot, QMUL

Dr Andrew Dean of Spartan Nano, told us about his work with Durham University on nanostructure surfaces and reducing bacterial contamination and fouling on surfaces. We heard how they’ve been using nanostructured antimicrobial films for targeting pathogenic bacteria such as e-coli and staphylococcus aureus in order to kill the bacteria. In the future they’re hoping to develop this technology for use on bandages.

Nanostructured Antimicrobial Films for Textile Applications Dr Andrew Dean, Spartan Nano Ltd

Dr Daniel Lynch, from Exilica told us about his work in embedded fragrances in textiles using micrometer-sized polymers in nano-porous networks. A lot of plastics have odour issues, especially recycled plastics, so it’s really useful to have the ability to improve their smell! We heard about how research is looking into improving the washability aspect of these plastics so they will continue to smell nice after several washes.

Overall it was a really good day, plus I met and had chats with some really interesting people and not forgetting that it was good to hear about the work at Nanoforce, QMUL, so I’d definitely go to another Nano4Design event .

Some thoughts on sensing, smart, wearable technology and e-textiles

I get asked a lot about what appeals to me about wearable technology, so I thought I’d put together some of my current thoughts…

I’m fascinated by how sensing, wearable technologies and e-textiles will become an increasingly important addition to our future.

Twinkle Tartiflette on new mannequin
Twinkle Tartiflette – a Lilypad Arduino driven interactive word/music artwork & wearable, 2010.

Whether we like it or not, we presently live in an economic / political era where we’re constantly told there’s not enough money in the community coffers and so resources will become increasing hard to source. The current UK Government is pushing responsibility for many things back at us via the ethos of Big Society as a way to manage shortfalls in community care – which is pretty depressing.

It is very cool and rather convenient then, that in the not too distant future, wearable technology may give us some help with our lifestyle needs and personal independence. We’ve been talking about ubiquitous computing and the social of media for a while now, but how the streams cross and actually become part of us in a much more intimate and useful way interests me.

For me, this is where shrinking computing components, e-textiles and canny design comes together. We’ve had futuristic looking clothing, research and development departments tweaking devices for years, plus utopian ideas gracing sci-fi and all manner of future gazing documents and films, but in reality we’re only just on the cusp of having the right convergence of media, technology and ideas for this micro, wearable future to start becoming a reality.

I feel that wearable technology is on the precipice of an exciting leap into mainstream culture, right now in my humble opinion, it’s at about the same point of development as personal computing was in the 80s: raw, unrefined, without standards, but new, exciting and full of possibilities – as opposed to the clumsy, bulky and unfocused history that prevailed the wearable tech of the past.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that rapid prototyping technology, 3D printing, the culture of Makers and Hackers, Hackspaces and events such as Maker Faire are also interwoven in the history of pushing experimentation with wearable technology forward.

Team Fragile (formerly BOB)
Makers and Hackers event, 2009.

Empowerment via tinkering, due to technologies such as Processing.org, Arduino, the various flavours of ‘duino microcontrollers, mbed, and particularly sewable microcontrollers, actuators and sensors such as LilyPad Arduino are pushing experiments forward. This is influencing exciting and progressive ideas of what technology means to people and especially into the realms of what people want tailored for them – rather than being antiseptic, turgid or created for commercial gain. All this has made for a liberated approach to creating and thinking what wearable technology could be and can be used for in 2011 and beyond.

Dr Jan Zimmermann on tech embroideries Dr Jan Zimmermann demonstrating new, embedded LED embroidery technology at Smart Fabrics Conference, April 2011.

Earlier this year, in April 2011, I attended the 7th annual Smart Fabrics Conference, hosted this year in London. It’s the world’s symposium for smart, wearable and e-textile technology, and draws presentations and attendees from the cream of the commercial, research and academic side of the community. I observed and learnt a lot from this 3-day experience and noted how diverse and yet still fledgling this growing community is. Comparing my three-day encounter I had with this community to that of the Maker community where I am usually to be found, I feel there is quite a difference between the two. Obviously, there is a commercial difference, so I wasn’t quite sure how much detail of the latest tech was being revealed, but it was very good to hear from researchers and academics and of course the snippets from the commercial side. Speakers represented universities, R&D laboratories and big business, and I noted major funding players such as Adidas, US Army, and Philips, to name a few. It was very interesting to note the difference between this and the Maker / Hacker communities in terms of where their priorities and interests lie, and crucially where the development funding is coming from!

So what’s the commercial potential that is attracting so much attention right now? Well, it’s predominantly flourishing in entertainment, sports, fashion, medical, lifestyle, specialist environmental, space exploration and military areas. To elaborate, here are some examples and a smattering of links to the awesome wearable tech that’s out there, with a few examples of my own work thrown in…

Entertainment and performance: well I could almost just say Lady Gaga, whom has been integral in wearing ever-more complex stage outfits which incorporate all sorts of technology, opening audiences eyes and getting them to accept technology as part of her personality and show. But, all sorts of artists and performers: from ballet dancers to, traveling shows and musicians have, for some time, also been incorporating technology into their outfits and performances.

Electroluminescent panel portholes An electroluminescent panel, part of my Ghost Ship Porthole dress.

The Dare Droid is a startling biomechanic cocktail-making outfit that uses medical and other hacked hardware to mix cocktails in exchange for a game of ‘Truth or Dare’. The performance’s Raison d’être is to explore human interaction in public spaces.

Fashion: from temperature and light sensitive inks, LEDs and electroluminescents, to phones, screens and sensing tech embedded in everyday wear, there is a huge potential for wearable technology and e-textiles to become integrated into fashion.

The N12 3D bikini by Continuum is a stunning example of what can be made by 3D printers. It’s made with Nylon 12 and snaps together so there is no need for stitching and the flexible, intricate design of thousands of connected plates is just amazing.

Amy Winters awesome designs feature prints that use thermo and hydrochromatic inks, that creatively use patterns with the properties of the inks to reveal themselves or disappear depending on light and temperature.

In terms of my own work, Neon-Victoriana Queen is an example of an electroluminescent costume, which I’ve exhibited at Kinetica Art Fair and Maker Faire this year. Its inspiration lies in Japanese Harajuku street fashion, of which I am a big fan and in turn has influenced me to create a my own technology based sub-genre: ‘Neon-Victoriana’. Another is the Ghost Ship Portal dress (below), which uses electroluminescent panels.

Electroluminescent panelled me
My Ghost Ship Portal dress, 2011.

Sports: athletes are finding it ever harder to improve human record times. Basically it comes down to the minute shaving off of milliseconds from performances and so monitoring athletes via their vital signs is significant to gaining those new human achievements. Also, from the point of view of broadcasters, they would like to give us ever more exclusive visuals and sounds from the athletes experiences, plus to have reliable communicative technology to give the viewer an athlete’s perspective live and authentically. With the 2012 Olympics coming up the wish list for sports tech is really hotting up!

Textronics have some intriguing sport performance, safety and health monitoring wearables and e-textiles. These range from clothing which integrates sensing fibres for heart monitoring to polymers, with variable resistance properties that can behave as strain gauges, switches and sensors.

Medical and lifestyle: smart textiles and wearables are becoming able to deliver medicines more exactly, hygienically and topically, and to also monitor patients from home or traveling so patients are not confined to long periods of hospitalization or being indoors.

Public groups such as the Quantified Self are devoted to ‘self-knowledge through numbers’ via monitoring themselves. For example, to improve their health, make changes to their lifestyle or monitor their moods by keeping tabs on their personal data. They do this via a plethora of means such as medical monitors, gym equipment, weighing machines, plus keeping spreadsheets, notes and graphs.

An example of medical technology is the non-invasive wearable cardioverter-defibrillator, which can be worn by patients at risk of sudden heart failure, whilst their doctors assess their health and decide what future healthcare plans need to be made.

Hactivate: You make my <3 flutter “You make my <3 flutter" sensing mood wearable, 2011.

Eric Boyd’s Heart Spark is an LED PCB pendant which pulses to one’s heartbeat via a Polar gym heartbeat transmitter chest strap. Eric has made the Heart Spark open source, which has allowed me to study the circuit diagrams and code, which I have in turn hacked its code and attached to a heart-shaped proximity sensing pendant that I have made. Combining the two pendants, I have created a mood device – the proximity sensor detects when someone has entered the wearer’s space and lights up three LEDs on the Heart Spark, which meanwhile pulsates 3 LEDs to the wearer’s heartbeat. My next step is to add a way of logging the data from these moments and visualise it on a graph, to see if there are fluctuations in heartbeat when someone enters the wearer’s space. I’d also like to add a simple camera device to log the data against images. I call this new hack / wearable tech: “You make my <3 flutter”.

Another mood wearable of mine is “Yr in mah face” which uses a temperature sensor to detect fluctuations in heat from breath of someone entering one’s space or a fluctuation in the wearer’s body heat from mood or circumstance.

'Yr in mah face' temp-sensing t-shirt
“Yr in mah face” temperature sensing mood t-shirt, 2011.

Extreme environmental and military clothing: for example those working in extreme or dangerous environments need monitors to tell them when they’re safe or in danger, for example fire fighters, arctic workers, astronauts or those working with chemicals. Similar to the extreme environmental clothing needs, the military want the latest sensing tech in their clothes such as adrenalin sensing fabrics, monitoring, GPS, moisture and heat absorbing clothing.

At last week’s London Quantified Self meet-up, we heard about Hidalgo’s Equivital vital signs monitoring wearable, which was developed and tested by the US military for physiological monitoring in a military environment. It gathers signs of different human states and brings the data together for analysis, for example: how close soldiers were to heat stress, fatigue or no longer being functional.

So what’s next? Well, things are changing very quickly and I’ll probably have a different take on things in another six months (see some of my observations from Smart Fabrics Conf). What I do keep saying is that there’s still no killer app for wearable technology, so in that respect it’s still all to play for! I’m currently researching, keeping long lists of links and ideas, and of course a beady eye on what’s going on out there: in the Maker and Hacker communities, in the research labs, in funding and academia and in business of what we might want, call, use, need, wear and manufacture in terms wearable technology!

Opentech 2011, ULU London

Dorkbot talk Saul & Pete

(As usual) I had a fabulous time at this year’s Opentech 2011, a multi-stream conference that brings hacker, open source advocates, civil servants, open rights and other communities together to discuss, debate, chat and drink beer. It’s a great day of talks intersected with a fab geek social, it traditionally occurs at ULU in London.

Taken straight from their website intro: “OpenTech 2011 is an informal, low cost, one-day conference on slightly different approaches to technology, transport and democracy. Talks by people who work on things that matter, guarantees a day of thoughtful talks leading to conversations with friends.” It is certainly all these things.

Hard curves, soft electronics
Photo by @PSD

I gave a presentation titled “Hard Curves, soft electronics – code, tech and textiles” – at which I demonstrated some of my wearable technology pieces, specifically those made with LilyPad Arduino (an open source technology) sewable microcontrollers, sensing modules and conductive threads and textiles. These included Twinkle Starduino, I <3 0X0, Twinkle Tartflette and 'Yr In Mah Face', plus I mentioned some of my mbed work. I also discussed how e-texiles and the LilyPad help dismiss the idea that electronics are grey, sharp and cold. I also feel that the rise in tinkering with Arduino and e-textiles is a great way of encouraging girls / hobbyists / anyone to have fun and see beyond the stigma of electronics and coding being a dull and difficult to pursue.

Here's a link to my slides, plus one of the videos I showed during the presentation which demonstrated my ‘Yr In Mah Face‘ temperature / mood sensing t-shirt.

Talks I enjoyed this year included, a history and expose under the sheets of London dorkbot – ‘doing strange things with electricity’ from janitors Saul Albert and Peter Brownell. The session included some hilarious, bonkers and touching reminders from dorkbots of the past. The London dorkbot chapter was second to evolve, after New York being the first and has been going for nearly 10 years.

Paul Downey of OSHUG gave a lovely introduction to open source hardware, some examples of projects, events, plus various groups and people hacking tech.

Opentech: PSD on open hardware

Russ Garrett, spoke about the London Hackspace and gave a brief history of how it grew from small beginnings and venues into a very organised space today with at the time of the event, membership being nearly 300 people.

Open hardware questions: Russ

It was good to hear an update from Suw Charman-Anderson on Ada Lovelace Day: a celebration of women’s achievements in science, technology, engineering and maths – a subject very close to my heart.

Steve Goodwin gave a talk about digital archeology and the difficulties in creating and archiving retro technology. Steve concluded by showing his EMF emulator framework for a ZX 81.

A bit of light hearted and NSFW fun came from Jag who was inspired by his father’s knowledge of morse code, to play with it and come up with “an attempt to acquit extremely offensive & censured words using morse code, din & music”.

After the talks concluded, everyone made their way to the ULU bar to chat with friends old and new, plus quaff beer. Sadly the kitchen wasn’t open in the evening – I’m sure it would’ve done a roaring trade in its legendary curly fries. An awesome day – thanks to Sam Smith and all the lovely organisers for a very well executed day, the only shame is that I’ll have to wait till next year for the next one!

Ourduino PCBs
A couple of Ourduino’s beautiful PCBs.

Smart Fabrics Conference, 4-6 April, London

Dr Jan Zimmermann on tech embroideries

Smart Fabrics Conference gathers together people and companies from fashion, technology, electronics, research, academia, textile and diverse applications communities, to discuss what’s happening in the industry and to showcase what’s new and being developed, plus panels discuss and answer questions.

Smart Fabrics - day 2

The conference was fantastic, an excellent eye-opener to the commercial world of smart textiles and I met some really interesting people working in this area. The conference was in it’s 7th year and as a newcomer it was great to chat to people who have been working in this area for over decade and hear their stories, plus talk to students and start-ups. At the moment there seems to be a really good buzz in this area, and it feels like the time is right – driven by forces such as an ageing population, lifestyle, medical, sports, military needs and entertainment – for smart fabrics and wearables to take off.

Dr Jan Zimmermann - tech embroidery

My observations…

Wins:

  • Smart fabric tech is still an emerging technology, but feels like it’s on the verge of an explosion of interest
  • Interest in sensing wearables for sport, medical, industrial, military and lifestyle interests is taking off and is where the funding opportunities are
  • Obviously lots of opportunity for innovation and room for more companies/creatives
  • I’m excited by fabric pick & place sewing machine that replaced traditional solder with conductive thread
  • Conductive embroidery with LEDs could be very exciting for fashion/textile artists
  • Performance & sporting events are a big driver for smart wearables

Challenges:

  • Smart fabrics technology is still looking for a killer app
  • Necessity for more standards and classifications
  • Sustainablility
  • Cheap disposables for medical purposes
  • Supply chain isn’t yet set up for wearable tech
  • “A lot of focus on the technology, but not enough on what the consumer wants”
  • Marketing focus
  • “Progress is usually slower than prediction”

My wish list:

  • Emerging tech could possibly thrive faster with some open source collaboration and sharing of ideas
  • Manufacturers should keep in mind emerging artists and designers for showcasing their products, as well as wanting to give to top designers
  • I’m really excited about developments in electroluminescent yarns, fabrics and films for artworks and wearables, though sadly I didn’t see much in development and available anytime soon in small quantities for artists like myself to buy
  • Would love to hear more about combining code with hardware prototyping, from hardware/code hackers like myself
  • Be great to explore some applications for smart fabrics use in gaming
  • I’d like to hear more user-testing examples, what do end users want/like?

I came away from the Smart Fabrics conference feeling very inspired and with a ton of knowledge. I hope it isn’t too long before some of the smart fabrics & tech discussed will be available to me, both as a designer and consumer.

Dr Uwe Mohring: novel illuminations

Dr Uwe Mohring: novel illuminations

HITEK: conductive fabrics