Category Archives: technology

Visiting CERN Open Days 2013, Geneva, Switzerland + France

Super-excited to be on the underground tour to see ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)

For a long time it’s been an ambition of mine to visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which straddles the countries of Switzerland and France. Here they use the largest scientific instruments in the world to smash particles together at the speed of light in the hope of finding the smallest known things in the universe, the particles that make up matter. “CERN” comes from the acronym for the French “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire”, or European Council for Nuclear Research, which was founded in 1952 with the task of establishing a world-class physics research organization in Europe. When CERN was founded, its goals were around the research and understanding of what laid inside the atom, hence the term “nuclear” in the name.

Yay ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)!

In July I discovered that CERN were putting on two open days for the public before major upgrade work, so I knew I had to get there somehow! The lottery for underground tickets to see the legendary Large Hadron Collider, detectors and other experiments were hard to get hold of, as they only randomly released a few a day over the course of a month. As you’d expect geeks from all over the world were sitting like me refreshing the page constantly, to get the chance to grab tickets each time they released a few to the public, consequently they were snapped up within a couple of minutes every time.

Totally fabulous & excited to be in the particle accelerator tube tunnel, in the LHC ring at CERN!

Eventually I was lucky and grabbed a couple of tickets for ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment). The 10,000-tonne ALICE detector is 26 meters long, 16 meters high, and 16 meters wide, and is used to study quark-gluon plasma. The detector sits in a cavern 56 meters below ground close to the village of St Genis-Pouilly in France, receiving beams from the LHC.

Super-excited to be on the underground tour to see ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)

So in September I went to Geneva to visit CERN, as you’d expect it was a wonderful and awe-filled experience. There was so much to see and so many brilliant physicists, computer scientists and other experts who gave their time to conduct tours, give amazing talks and answer questions. Of course my highlight was going underground to see ALICE, which was breathtaking and to see part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator ring itself which is 27 miles in diameter. Also seeing the architecture, signs and small things like the bikes and scooters that the physicists use to move around, which gave one an idea of scale.

Bikes and scooters to get around the LHC spotted on my underground tour to see ALICE

Totally fabulous & excited to be in the particle accelerator tube tunnel, in the LHC ring at CERN!

Magnetic field warning signs - there are some jolly big magnets in the LHC and other detectors at CERN

We also visited Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) Payload Operations Control Centre (POCC). The AMS is a particle-physics detector that looks for dark matter, antimatter and missing matter from a module which is attached to the outside of the International Space Station (ISS). It also performs precision measurements of cosmic rays and 17 billion cosmic-ray events were collected in the first year! Data is received from the module on the ISS by NASA in Houston, and then it is relayed to the AMS Payload Operations Control Centre (POCC) at CERN for analysis. This experiment is run by a collaboration of 56 institutions. The detector measures 64 cubic metres and weighs 8.5 tonnes, was assembled at CERN.

At the AMS dark matter experiment talk
A model of the AMS module which is bolted onto the outside of the ISS.

CERN Control Room
Being in charge, in the CERN Control Centre ;-)

It was a fab treat to have a look round CERN Control Centre (CCC), which combines the control rooms of the Laboratory’s eight accelerators, as well as the piloting of cryogenics and technical infrastructures. It was boggling to see all the control stations and monitors, I also noted all the empty champagne bottles, which together made a timeline of CERN’s milestones and achievements.

CERN Control Room

The Microcosm sculpture garden is wonderful and features some amazing examples of former CERN experiments shown as sculpture. Plus the many exhibits and kit on show which are too numerous to mention in a short blog post. There was even a music festival comprising of CERN staff bands, which was also fabulous. I didn’t get to see everything, there was far too much to fit in my one day at CERN, but here are a few of my photos of my most amazing day at CERN.

CERN staff band Music Festival
The CERN staff bands play at the Open Days music festival.

Garden of sculptures made with old bits of CERN experiments

Microcosm sculpture garden made of old CERN experiments.

Robotics Exhibition
There was also a great demonstration of robots!

At the ATLAS Globe and exhibition
My final sight of CERN was taking off from Geneva airport and seeing the Dome (above) and the CERN complex all lit up – I was very sad to leave!

Underground trip to see ALICE
Friendly physicist taking us on a tour underground.

ALICE Exhibition
ALICE exhibition

Emergency Stop - underground at CERN
One of many huge emergency stop signs underground in the particle accelerator ring.

Oh yes, I finally got my paws on a couple (well 3) official CERN t-shirts, which completed my trip as I’d been after a CERN t-shirt for many years, in fact I’d even taken to designing my own celebratory t-shirts for the switch on of the LHC back in 2008!

Rainycat celebratory LHC t-shirt designs!
Celebratory t-shirts I designed for the switch on of the LHC in 2008 – I really should do some more for the Nobel Prize announcement!

ALICE A Large Ion Collider Experiment t-shirt
In comparison, an official ALICE t-shirt from CERN circa 2013

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

EEG Data Visualising Pendant – wearable technology for use in social situations

Moi & EEG Visualising Pendant worn with 3D printed frame

EEG Visualising Pendant shown with 3D printed frames

Introduction
I developed my EEG visualising pendant for use in social situations. The pendant uses EEG (Electroencephalography) signals, which are gleaned from a NeuroSky MindWave Mobile headset. The MindWave is a standalone headset device that detects electrical signals from the brain, which are accessed via a single electrode on a protruding arm from the headband. The electrode makes contact via the wearer’s forehead at the pre-frontal cortex area, where higher thinking states are dominant. The pendant displays attention / concentration data as red LEDs (light emitting diodes) beside meditation / relaxation data in green LEDs on an LED matrix. The pendant has live, record and playback functions, which give the user the choice of displaying live EEG visualisations or recording and playing up to four minutes of previous brainwave data visualisations on a loop if they’re feeling mischievous or want to appear to be concentrating / paying attention or relaxed, or just want to use the pendant as an aesthetic piece of jewellery without the EEG headset. Here’s a link to an interview with me and BBC Technology News filmed at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) in Zurich, Sept 2013.

EEG Visualising Pendant - now with live, record & playback modes!

Image shows the pendant in action, plus selection options for pendant modes: live, record or playback.

I created this video to show the EEG Pendant working with the MindWave Mobile headset, I’ve added some crowd atmos to simulate being in a networking situation. You can see on the pendant my attention (red) and medidation (green) levels changing.

My motivation for developing this piece of wearable technology is that in certain spaces and situations we feel more awkward and vulnerable than in others. These situations include conferences and networking events, which put us in social situations where we might be alone or do not know other people very well and also in social areas such as bars and parties. All are situations where people often assume it’s okay to come into someone’s space and talk to them, which depending on how someone is feeling might make them uncomfortable. As well as asking personal questions, some conversations can go on for too long and it’s not usually socially acceptable to interrupt a person speaking mid-flow, then walk away – so how can we best let people know when we feel uncomfortable? As not everyone is adept at recognising or interpreting correctly the emotional signals of the person they are currently interacting with via body language alone, I developed the EEG visualising pendant as a means to go some way to bridge that gap by creating a piece of wearable technology that visualises the wearer’s concentration / meditation levels to signal when the wearer is attentive and interested or drifting away from the conversation. The pendant can also display when the wearer is more relaxed or unfocused (possibly when tired too) – in this state the LEDs display more green LEDs.

I am also interested in how we can manipulate social situations and how others see us by controlling our physiological data, either by using the record and playback functions, or by practicing how to control one’s own physiological data, in the case of EEG by, for example, reading, counting backwards, doing times-tables (attention) or defocusing / zoning out (meditation).

Showing my Bluetooth EEG Visualising Pendant at the Design Exhibition at ISWC

Here I am showing my EEG Visualising Pendant at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) in Zurich, September 2013.


Development of hardware and software of the EEG Pendant

The LED (Light Emitting Diode) matrix form factor I chose for the pendant makes it small and versatile. Its 3 x 3 centimetre size in allows it to be transferable to various outfits and worn in different ways, for example, as a pendant, brooch or badge clipped to a jacket, shirt or tie. The EEG data is visualised in three distinct styles, each being a proportional representation of the signal in real time.

My first action on purchasing an MindWave Mobile back in autumn 2012, was to ascertain how one could use the MindWave Mobile outside its intentional usage, which is to communicate with iOS and Android devices. I’d already found some information on the developer area of the NeuroSky website suggesting there were various other devices and applications that could work with the MindWave Mobile, such as Arduino microcontrollers, but at the time it didn’t have enought information, so I hunted around online for clues and began to piece together an idea of how to go about communicating with the MindWave.

The pendant’s first circuit prototype consisted of an Arduino Uno microcontroller connected via breadboard to a Bluetooth dongle and an LED bar-graph. At this stage the prototype was only visualising one aspect of the EEG data at a time, i.e. attention or meditation data.

Behold - my brainwaves visualised on an LED bar graph

I decided that for using the pendant both the attention and meditation data really needed to be shown next to each other, so I swapped the LED bar-graph for a square, single colour LED matrix. This gave a better display of how the EEG levels compared, but I felt these levels needed to be shown to be distinctive from each other, so the green LED matrix was exchanged for a bi-colour LED matrix and C code updated to display the attention data levels as red rectangles and meditation levels as green rectangles. The rectangles were split over two halves of the square matrix and enlarged and contracted in accordance with the data from the MindWave Mobile headset.

EEG visualisations matrix on a Shrimp circuit with Mindwave Mobile

Development of the pendant’s data visualisation could have concluded at this point, but it is important to consider the design and aesthetic nature of a piece of wearable technology, from both the wearer’s and of the viewer’s point of view. Also, it is important to consider how to make most of the data in terms of creating an innovative and unique piece of wearable technology. Exploring how the EEG data can be creatively portrayed is a crucial part of the software and hardware evolution of the pendant. So bearing this in mind, I updated the code to add circular and diagonal data visualisations of red / attention and green / meditation. This was originally reflected as lines on the LED matrix, but later as filled shapes with overlaps shown as yellow, which in my opinion, is overall more pleasing to the eye of the viewer.

EEG Visualising Pendant data shape cycles

For transferring the prototype to stripboard, my first attempt used an ATtiny85 microcontroller, which looked like a good fit for the circuit and as the name suggests it’s very small high-performance, low-power Atmel 8-bit microcontroller. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to use the ATtiny85 for this project as the LED matrix graphics libraries and the code for the cycle of three data visualising styles meant that it added up to too much code for the 8k Flash memory of the ATtiny85. Instead, I used a low cost Shrimp microcontroller kit that was designed specifically for breadboard / stripboard prototyping and comes as a bag of loose components which makes it fairly flexible in terms of putting together. The Shrimp is based on the Arduino Uno and includes the same Atmel 328-PU microcontroller chip at its heart, so there was not a problem uploading the code and libraries from the breadboard and Arduino Uno circuit. The next step was to test the circuit with appropriate batteries to ensure it could be powered as a stand-alone piece of wearable technology, three AAA batteries sufficed to run the circuit and all its components. I considered using two coin cell batteries in parallel, but decided I preferred a rechargeable AAA option.

Mood lighting on my EEG Visualising Pendant at Design Exhibition teardown
The EEG Visualising Pendant on show at the Design Exhibition of the International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) 2013, Zurich.

Having tested the circuit, the schematic was then drawn out out to ensure the circuit and its components could be neatly fitted onto stripboard. An appropriate size of stripboard was cut, tracks that needed to be cut to prevent short circuits were dug out and the components laid out for the circuit and then soldered. This is quite a time consuming business, but I enjoy building circuits.

The pendant was then ready to be attached to a necklace via small metal hoop links, spaced well enough away from any circuitry not to cause any short circuits. The LED matrix / pendant was attached to the main circuit board via detachable male / female jumper wires so for ease of putting on and also so it could be detached from the necklace and worn as a brooch. During usage, the stripboard circuit can be housed in a small bespoke box to protect it and keep it insulated, so it can then be tucked into a pocket.

Challenges
The key technical challenge laid around communications with the headset, as it is a proprietary device, designed primarily to use with downloaded apps and games. The MindWave Mobile headset communicates with Bluetooth enabled devices that have the MindWave Mobile software installed but does not come with a Bluetooth dongle to communicate with other hardware for development purposes, as does with the NeuroSky research package. So once I was able to get the Bluetooth dongle to pair with the MindWave Mobile, my next task was to have code that then checks for packet strength and quality.

In terms of aesthetic design, the LED matrix was chosen because of its small pendant-like size and shape. It is also very light, so will not weigh heavily on the neck or on the body if worn as a pendant or a brooch. Aesthetics for wearable technology need to be carefully considered if we expect people to wear these devices, so we should ensure that we design them to look elegant and enjoyable to wear. In the past wearable technology has been clunky, heavy and often not very pleasing to the eye or designed with the wearer’s individual needs in mind. Plus we should take into consideration the different groups of people who might wear our devices and the individual preferences of each group. Demographics such as age, gender and lifestyle should be accounted for and user testing on designs carried out.

The NeuroSky MindWave Mobile is a useful low-cost EEG headset, however only having the one electrode on the product can make finding a signal a little cumbersome, though in return we get a comparatively discreet headset compared to others and do not need to use a gel to establish conductivity from the head to the electrode.

Ribbonacci frame for EEG Visualising Pendant

Using a Shrimp kit for the microcontroller circuit made for a smaller and less bulky circuit, plus brought the price of the project down. Although this means a little extra time needed to be spent putting the circuits together, soldering and testing to look for short circuits and any mistakes in the layout of components. As mentioned in the project development, the ATtiny85 was an ambitious approach to making the circuit smaller and easier to wear, but was not appropriate due to not enough memory being available for the code and libraries to drive the circuit and LED matrix.

Future Work
The EEG visualising pendant will progress as a project by testing and developing new ways of visualising EEG data that appeal to the user. The presentation of the pendant will be developed in terms of user profiles, for example, how could the matrix be housed and embellished to suit different demographics of users, plus looking at styles for male and female users.

In terms of the hardware, there are possible improvements that can be made to the configuration of the circuit to make the circuit board smaller and more compact. Smaller and lighter batteries would considerably lessen the weight and the bulkiness of the circuit board. As EEG technology progresses it may not be long before the headset form factor may be done away with altogether as smaller and less obvious ways of wearing the EEG electrode and transmitting the data are developed and favoured.

Wearing the SolarStar frame for EEG Visualising Pendant

Above polymer clay textured frame, below 3D printed frames in sparkly alumide (printed by Shapeways)

Introduction to Wearable Technology Workshop at Bridge Rectifier, Hebden Bridge

Bridge Rectifier

Last weekend I visited picturesque Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire to deliver a workshop on wearable technology and e-textiles, incorporating LilyPad Arduino Simple microcontroller boards, for the Bridge Rectifier Hackerspace Group, which was held in Hebden Bridge’s lovely Town Hall.

Hebden Bridge views from The Gin Terrace at the Town Hall

I started the day with a presentation on wearable technology, its background, some thoughts on the influence of Science Fiction, Makers and Hackers, and the effect of the miniaturisation of computing and communications technology on wearable technology, plus some examples of existing wearable technology and uses.

Table of LilyPads, components & materials for Bridge Rectifier e-textiles / wearable technology workshop

The workshop itself introduced the LilyPad Arduino microcontroller and Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment), as well as introductory coding and electronics concepts and terms. On the practical side, attendees used crocodile clips to put together a simple LED (Light Emitting Diode) circuit, followed by a more complex LDR (Light Dependent Resistor) circuit and experiment with code to play with threshold levels to turn a bi-colour LED from green to red.

Fun with LilyPad Arduinos, components & fabric!

After experimenting with code and watching the results in the serial monitor, attendees sketched out circuits and worked with conductive thread, fabrics and accessories on ideas for wearable electronics and e-textile projects that incorporated the circuits and code sketches explored earlier in the day.

Making an LDR (Light Dependant Resistor) Cyclops

I really enjoyed running the workshop and was very impressed by the enthusiasm and ideas from the attendees, who were roughly of a 50/50 gender mix, a broad range of ages and backgrounds. The wearable projects that evolved during the afternoon included: a colourful flashing Burlesque barrette, a green, sensing Cyclops for a t-shirt whose one eye changed from green to red, a prototype t-shirt for a local drumming band which incorporated sequenced flashing LEDs, a LilyPad turned into a flower featuring a blinking LED to feature on a hat, an LED glove and a t-shirt featuring a figurine with LED eyes and LEDs incorporated into its outfit, plus some experimental circuits with LDR and LEDs.

Amy's flashing Birdy LED Burlesque Barrett

Making an LED t-shirt

Many thanks to Andrew Back for inviting me and doing all the behind the scenes organising, Hebden Bridge Town Hall and DesignSpark for their support.

Making drumming performance electronic outfits

Sewing projects together

International Women’s Day 2013 at Tech City & QCon London

I had a fabulous & busy International Women’s Day on 8th March. Firstly in the morning I gave a talk on wearable technology at QCon London software conference, held at QEII conference centre. My talk was part of the Making – The Future track and followed a great talk on Physical Pi, which contained lots of great ideas of what you can do with your Raspberry Pi by Romilly Cocking and Steve Freeman of QuickWire

QCon London

In my talk, Here Comes Wearable Technology, I took a brief look at how wearable technology has emerged from its early roots in cybernetics, sci-fi and clunky but cool electronics (feat the legendary Steve Mann several times) and how artists, designers and makers are developing wearables outside the current bubble of media hyperbole of speculation on Google Glass, Apple’s creations, etc. Plus showed some of my wearable electronics creations and a peek at some of the coding and electronics teaching I’d been doing via e-textiles with various groups of students at Aberystwyth University for Technocamps.

In the evening I hopped across town to Poke’s HQ in Shoreditch for Tech City International Women’s Day Showcase to show some of my wearable tech pieces such as my Baroesque barometric skirt, musical C scale and Twinkle Tartiflette t-shirts, cyclist warning proximity t-shirt and Mindwave Mobile EEG/brainwave visualising prototype!

The event featured an amazing bill of talented women technologists, such as Sarah Angliss, Emilie Giles, Leila Johnston, Pollie Barden and more, see the showcase page for full line up and links to their work!

Here’s a lovely video from the event, I apologise in advance for my doolallyness in the bits I feature – I was suffering from the effects of a horrid sinus head cold, which had reduced my brain’s processing to a wibbly mess!

Many thanks to the fab organisers of Tech City IWD: Alex Deschamps-Sonsino, Ana Bradley, Natasha Carolan, Becky Stewart, host Poke & their peeps, all the fab people who came along that I had brilliant conversations with, plus sponsors Redmonk.

Showing my work at Tech City International Women's Day Showcase

Baroesque – Barometric Skirt

Barometric skirt - coming together

I wanted to bridge the gap between what for me had been an enclosed capsule of capturing / visualizing my own physiological data and entwining it with data from the environment around me. The barometric skirt 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.

Getting Baroesque Barometric Skirt ready for Smart Textiles Salon

If you haven’t seen or heard of a barometric sensor board before, it’s a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and the BMP085 I’ve used integrates temperature, atmospheric pressure and altitude sensors, these together constitute a suite of sensors that can be used for looking at weather data. You may have heard of ‘pressure’ attributed to weather terms such as high or low pressure – high pressure generally relates to warm, sunny weather and low pressure colder, wetter weather. Sensors in a barometric board are also used in altimetry to measure one’s present altitude, or for example, how high one has climbed.

Barometric skirt - coming together

I decided that I had to make a bespoke skirt for this project due to the way I wanted the RGB LED strip to display from inside the skirt. It took me a while to find a skirt pattern that I thought would suit the project, I’ve gone for an A-line skirt with a dropped waist, which I thought would support the components quite well, especially as RGB LED strip requires a 12 Volt supply, which isn’t exactly light! My initial idea was to make a jolly big pocket for the battery pack, but after spending a day experimenting with pocket making, I decided to make a Velcro on-and-offable components substrate apron (for want of a better term) which goes in the middle of the skirt fabric and lining layer, I made a fitted pocket on the substrate apron to hold the 12V battery pack.

Fabric painting

The skirt required an illustration to enhance the component design and after pondering weather icons and scenes I decided that I wanted a Japanese feel and practiced fabric painting on with calligraphy brushes and tested various fabrics for holding paint, washability, shrinking and ironing capabilities. In the end I chose to create some Okami style weather designs inspired by the beautiful characters and fan art, so after making 2 or three prototype skirts in satin and organza (and being driven half mad by this task) I painted weather bound characters directly onto the skirt.

Barometric skirt - coming together

Having got the skirt (with the lining to shield the wearer from electronics components) mostly made, I moved on to the electronics. This took some of thinking about as I wanted to visualise data outputted from four sensors individually via RGB LED strip, the resulting rats nest took up three breadboards and contained so many components and wires it would have been a nightmare to reproduce and solder onto stripboard. Luckily a way to consolidate this somewhat came with the introduction of two array ICs. I added another temperature sensor to the circuit for measuring my own temperature and the whole lot was driven by a Shrimp kit instead of my usual choice of microcontroller board such as a LilyPad Arduino. “The Shrimp” as explained on the Shrimping It website is “a Arduino-compatible, handmade circuit you can use to create your own digital inventions” – basically it’s a low cost kit of components that you can put together yourself on breadboard or stripboard. This saved me a lot of space as I crammed all my components (bar the barometric sensor I wanted on the outside of the skirt and 12V battery pack) onto one piece of stripboard.

I’ve written the code, or sketch in C, with the inclusion of the Wiring library and the example code library for the BMP085 which does all the complex and clever calculations to convert readings to °C (Celcius), Pa (Pascal) and m (meter) readings. If you’ve got the barometric sensor set up using the Arduino IDE you can open the serial monitor to see the readings fly by.

Testing my Baroesque Barometric Skirt for Smart Textles Salon

Barometric skirt: long day of wire stripping, soldering, swearing, desoldering & soldering again!

I spent the next two weeks stripping wire and soldering, I also did a lot of desoldering and resoldering as I endeavoured to get the shrunken, but still a rats nest of wires in the correct groupings of PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) and digital input and output to their respective pins to match up with my code. I can’t underestimate the value of double checking wires and tracks before soldering, though it’s incredibly easy to make mistakes as wiring is always fiddly and tracks are so close together. Also, don’t forget to work out where your track cutting should be before squeezing everything into a small piece of stripboard – always leave an extra line or two in tracks for contingency! If you’re using a coin cell battery, it’s a good idea to get a small, solderable holder for it, but be selective in which type you choose as some are much more fiddly to release the battery than others! I should also mention that I couldn’t find a stripboard friendly version of a 2.1 barrel socket for the 12V battery pack, so I used an SMD one, but had to dig into the stripboard to join two track holes together. Another top tip is try to get a track in between your 12V and ground tracks, just in case of any stray solder bridging!

Feel like I've had enough of soldering for a bit!

Before sewing the stripboard and RGB LED strip to the apron substrate, I added some strong Velcro to hold the apron to the skirt lining fabric, next time I do this style of embedded electronics I will use a stronger substrate for the electronics as lining fabric isn’t really robust enough for suspended 12V battery packs! Until I do a better photo shoot / video enjoy some the photos and video I’ve made along the way.

Barometric skirt - coming together

In June 2013, I presented the Baroesque Skirt at Smart Textiles Salon in Ghent, Belgium.

Presenting my Baroesque Barometric Skirt

Smart Textiles Salon

Getting Baroesque Barometric Skirt ready for Smart Textiles Salon

Ada Lovelace Day 2012: Jamillah Knowles – Tech Hurricane!

My Ada Lovelace Day post is a little late as I’m currently experiencing lurgied brainfuddle, so I’ll get on with it!

JK on the crystal encrusted dog n bone

I’d like to give a big shout out to Jamillah Knowles: tech journalist, radio presenter, podcaster, blogger and student of AI, whom you might also know under her nom de plume as Jemimah Knight. Jamillah is a contender for the hardest working person on the planet. When we both worked at the BBC I could rarely drag her away from her desk / studio for a conflab & chips and since she’s moved on to work for The Next Web as their UK Editor she’s just as busy, maybe busier, as there’s lots of extra travel on top to report from far flung conferences and events.

Not content with just doing the aforementioned day job, Jamillah still manages to fit in her joyous weekly reportage on leftfield geek podcast, BBC Outriders, plus is a contributor to Global Voices Online and then somehow manages to fit in study for her BSc in artificial intelligence and human machine interaction, where JavaScript jousting is a sport for the fearless. I don’t know how she fits it all in and possibly does her sleeping whilst baking zeros and ones in the Knight Patisserie. Anyways, be thoroughly impressed! Top tip – don’t get in her way ;-)

Cyberspice being interviewed by Jamillah

Jamillah interviewing Cyberspice for Outriders at Maker Faire UK