Category Archives: Arduino

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 when tired – 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.

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

Welsh Dragon e-textile coding & electronics workshops for Technocamps

LilyPad Arduino class at Cardigan School

On the 8th July I returned to Aberystwyth with Sophie McDonald to spend 10 days teaching workshops on simple coding and electronics concepts using C programming language and sewable electronics covering for example: parallel / series circuits, switches, how to avoid short circuits, sensors, actuators and an overview of the LilyPad Arduino, for Technocamps.

This was a shorter and more compact experience compared to the 3-day bootcamp we taught during the Easter school holidays with young people from around Aberystwyth. The Easter bootcamp took students on a more in-depth journey through concepts around coding and electronics, where we had time to play with more circuit and code examples using breadboards, and spent an afternoon sewing electronic components into the students’ self-designed circuits – which you can read about here.

The workshops we prepared for this visit were shorter, 3-hour workshops and we presented them to school students, drop-in Technoclub students and home-schoolers of various ages from 8-15 years old. It still included an introduction to wearable technology and covered examples such as Steve Mann’s work in wearable augmented reality that has spanned several decades and I feel charts the miniturisation of technology (in a wearable) over time very well.

The new workshops concentrated more on getting immediate results from coding and electronics, so we pre-sewed the e-textiles side of things before the workshops, which visually took the form of the Welsh Dragon from the flag of Wales, also known as Y Draig Goch (The Red Dragon). The Dragon image was ironed on to tea-towels and then Sophie and I spent over a week sewing the components on so they were all ready to plug into computers upload code and for the students to enjoy experimenting with!

LilyPad Arduino class at Cardigan School

The Red Dragons contained the following components connected via sewn conductive thread: a LilyPad Arduino microcontroller, a LDR (Light Dependent Resistor), parallel LED circuit and fabric switches. Between these components you could do various exercises with various bits of code and combinations of components, so for example with the LDR the students were encouraged to look at the data coming back from the sensor in the serial monitor and change the code accordingly to use the LDR as a light sensitive switch to turn an LED on and off. We also used crocodile clips directly with the LilyPad Arduino, using a resistor and an LED to demonstrate circuits, resistors acting as dam to the flow of electricity, power + to ground -, anode and cathode.

LilyPad Arduino class at Cardigan School

For each class we lead over the 10 days we made small adjustments to the lessons in terms of age and knowledge, plus we played around with the scheduling and timing of the class to try and improve the flow where we felt necessary. We also enquired from accompanying teachers whether the students had already experienced some coding or electronics lessons at school or in the form of after school clubs. Some were familiar with coding and Arduino because they’d sought out to learn these areas themselves or been to a previous Technocamps workshop and it was really inspiring for the other students when these experienced kids chipped in with answers and suggestions in the classes.

Setting up again for electronic Welsh Dragon e-textiles / coding workshop

Apart from visiting schools and schools coming to Aberystwyth University’s Computer Science Department for workshops from the local area, we also took part in a drop-in Saturday in the Physics Dept, where any youngsters could come along and learn about coding, electronics and robots, plus we ran a workshop for home-schoolers, where the mums stayed and also learned some coding and electronics. I was really impressed by the way the mums threw themselves into getting involved in what the children were being taught. I hope the mums took away that coding and electronics projects aren’t too hard to get up and running, had fun getting involved at the workshop and will carry on learning at home.

We ended the lessons, where there was time, with a short exercise for the students in drawing their own circuits based on ideas they had for pieces of wearable technology, the ideas that were generated were very inspired and the students enjoyed a show and tell of ideas at the end of the workshop.

Student's wearable tech / circuit drawing

Our time at Aberystwyth also coincided with iOSDev conference at the university and about 20 conference delegates came to an impromptu demonstration we gave of the Dragons and asked us interesting questions. We also had some cool guest speakers for some of our workshops, we had a talk on the World Wide Web by Roger Boyle, My Life as a Software Engineer by Jonathan Roscoe, a talk about the European Parliament, from MEP for Wales, Derek Vaughan and last but certainly not least a visit from the Welsh Dalek and K9 courtesy of Steve Fearn of the Institute of Maths and Physics at Aberystwyth University.

Photos!

Steve with Welsh K9 and Dalek

In conclusion, we found the workshops very rewarding and the students genuinely seemed to get a lot out of them. With the circuits already sewn together by Sophie and I, a lot of time was saved and we packed in the maximum amount of examples and experiments within the three-hour workshops. I feel that all the sewing, slides and preparation that we did upfront and continually reviewed for each new session paid off really well for different age groups, class sizes and types of student. We found we zipped through some parts of the workshops where a few of the students had prior knowledge of coding, electronics or microcontrollers. Plus the students with a little knowledge were able impress their friends and were also eager to help out anyone who needed a bit of extra help or instructions repeating. Classes where students had no prior experience went really well too and to time, as students became confident really quickly with code and electronics when they realised they could get instant results from the electronic components by making adjustments to the code and uploading it to the LilyPad Arduino.

Letting the students experiment and make mistakes in the code to see what works and what doesn’t in terms of learning functions and formatting really helped them get a feel for putting code and electronics together. The circuit drawing session at the end of the workshop got the students thinking about how they could apply what they had learned to personal garments and also how they could be ambitious and stretch their knowledge and experiments.

Student's wearable tech / circuit drawing

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

Don’t Break My Heart – wearable distance warning system for cyclists

Don’t Break My Heart is a wearable, colour-coded distance warning system prototype for cyclists to wear on their back. It incorporates a sewable LilyPad Arduino microcontroller, RGB LED, proximity sensor, conductive thread and fabrics to create an easily Velcro-ed on and off (moveable between garments & bags) and highly visible alert for traffic traveling behind cyclists.

A pulsating RGB LED heart is triggered by a proximity sensor if a vehicle is detected traveling close behind. I’ve used traffic light colour-coding for the super-bright RGB LED: a slow green pulsating light in the heart-shaped diffuser indicates a safe distance is being maintained, an amber faster light indicates that caution should be observed and a red rapidly pulsating light indicates to the driver that they need to back off and give the cyclist some space. As this is a prototype at the ideas stage, safe distances and final technology, such as sonar for proximity detection and other materials/components would be tested and confirmed later in the design process.

I created the first iteration of this piece of wearable tech at Hondahack within a 12 hour deadline. I wasn’t happy with the look of it just because I’d rushed to kludge it together for the presentations, so after and when I had the time, I unpicked the conductive thread and components, and put it back together.

'Don't Break My Heart' - proximity sensing visual warning system prototype for vehicles behind cyclists

For those interested, here’s my write up of my weekend at Hondahack

Held at the Guardian offices in November 2011 and brought together by the fabulous Rewired State people, Hondahack was a different kind of hack day than any I’d attended before as it was totally sponsored by Honda as part of their ‘Dream Factory’ which includes a group of people they’ve brought together and deemed ‘cultural engineers’ – quoting from the page in the Graunaid it describes them as “people who embody the Honda philosophy of pushing forward and venturing into the unknown”.

Welcome

One had to apply for a place at the hack weekend and twenty-three were selected, of which three were women, which is typical of hack days – more often than not because not very many women apply to attend these events.

The article in the Guardian about the event describes the attendees as ‘developers’, and as it was wrapped up in future publicity for Honda there was a camera crew who created a set of fancy videos capturing much posing of the Honda ‘cultural engineers’ around the Guardian offices and also contained sound bites from the attendees, which you can watch here.

Introductions

On the first morning we introduced ourselves and were shown some Honda motivational videos, we were then encouraged to openly brainstorm ideas and form teams. We then went and looked at the new Honda Civic car in the Graunaid car park, this took us up to lunchtime and after it was time to get hacking. Oh yes, we were given these values assigned to the new car to consider as a brief / guide for our hacks…

“If we never venture into the unknown, how do we get anywhere new?”

*and*

  • Quality: unparalleled reliability: ‘A class above’
  • Technology: intelligent, useful, innovative, ‘as standard’, economical clean
    Design: sporty + versatile, intuitive, personality, stand-out, confident, aerodynamic
  • Evolution: quiet + comfortable, refinement, honing of everything

My hack was a hardware hack, which is strangely still pretty much an anomaly at hack days, so I didn’t really expect it to win anything, plus many of the other attendees were creating vehicle / cyclist warning apps. Anyway, my hack was a prototype for a wearable distance warning system for cyclists to wear on their back that was Velcro on-and-offable. It used a traffic light LED system to indicate to traffic traveling behind of their proximity.

Sewing my Hondahack components together to make Don't Break My Heart

Here’s my description that I wrote on the day… http://hacks.rewiredstate.org/events/power-of-minds/don-t-break-my-heart

“London can be a daunting and scary place for a cyclist. Here in Kings Cross we have seen many cyclists hurt or killed on the roads, in London and all over the UK visibility for cyclists is an issue. My hack for Hondahack is a piece of wearable technology using LilyPad Arduino, RGB LED, proximity sensor, conductive thread and fabrics to create an easily velcro-ed on and off and highly visable alert for traffic traveling behind cyclists. A pulsating RGB LED heart is triggered by a proximity sensor if something is travelling close behind it. A green calm pulsating heart indicates a safe distance is maintained, an amber faster heart indicates that caution should be observed and a red rapidly pulsating heart indicates to the driver that they need to back off and give the cyclist some space.”

I created my hack in less than 12 hours and as I didn’t have the relevant components at Hondahack, I had to go home and get them. So I breadboarded / crocodile clipped a prototype, wrote some code and was up and soldering at 7.30am on Sunday before I went back to the Graunaid where I spent all day furiously sewing my e-textiles, wearable hack together with conductive thread before the presentations at 3pm. I wouldn’t have stopped and eaten all day if it hadn’t been for Emma Mulqueeny, who very kindly made me a tasty vegan risotto and reminded me to eat it – which I wolfed down when it was placed in front of me.

Presenting my Hondahack: Don't Break My Heart

My hack called ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ didn’t win any prizes, but it was nice to get an honourable mention from one of the judges in the summing up. All the winners and hacks are here on this handy page – far easier to browse than me writing them all out for you.

Sewing my Hondahack components together to make Don't Break My Heart

A few weeks after Hondahack I was really pleased to hear that Honda decided they were not going to keep the IP for all the hacks (which at first seemed to be the case).

Quantified Self Europe Conference + presenting on Sensing for Wearable Technology

It was a great honour to be invited to present the opening plenary at the Quantified Self Europe Conference in Amsterdam at which I was asked to speak to the attendees about sensors for wearable technology.

Quantified Self “self knowledge through numbers” is a meet up organisation for people who are interested in self-tracking and enjoy sharing their experiences, plus listening to the research and techniques of others too. Groups are held in a show and tell arrangement and attendees take turns in presenting their research, tools and methods. I attend the London meet-ups , they’re very insightful, friendly and great for bouncing ideas & info.

Here’s my slides…

During my presentation I introduced the audience to the LilyPad Arduino, the sewable microcontroller that I use with e-textiles & electronic components for most of my wearable tech, with some of my insights into what I feel makes this microcontroller fabulous, followed by some thoughts on what could be improved.

My talk then looked at the main components for wearables and a brief explanation of what they do, in particular sensors and actuators for which I created a graphic to show some of the most prominent user areas of these components and which components they’re mostly using (in my humble opinion). For me at least, this helps me consider where funding for wearables is going and also what’s being created, and by whom. I gave a few examples of existing projects that include sensors and that I feel are rather exciting and inspirational – looking at one example per usage area.

Finally in my summing up, I offered my thoughts on wearables and e-textiles as an emerging technology and perhaps what improvements could be made.

Context slide on my own work / intro to presenting on sensors at QS

I enjoyed the QS conference and I was pleased at how many hardware prototype talks and breakout sessions there were. I attended a great breakout session on hardware prototyping where I had a good chinwag with fellow engineers and designers.

During the talks, I was introduced to a very nice example of a piece of wearable tech in development by Hind Hobeika called Butterfleye – which are swimming goggles that allow the wearer to monitor their heart rate and gives real time feedback to the wearer via a visual system.

Hind Hobeika on her Butterflye heart monitor swimming goggles

There were also many talks from QS-ers on different aspects of self-monitoring and personal stories about what they’d experimented with and conclusions in terms of their own tracking. For example, I enjoyed Chia Hwu’s talk on why she’s banned from drinking caffeine – which turned out to be an engaging story on genetics and how some people metabolise caffeine slower than others, she had a similar story to tell about alcohol and genetics – both substances send me a bit loopy, so I was nodding from the back of the room and we had an affirming chat afterwards. There’s a nice write-up of it on QS which also mentions Martha Rotter’s interesting story of her investigation into food allergies in relation to skin complaints.

I had a lovely time at QS EU and it was great to meet people I had chatted to on Twitter such as organisers Gary Wolf and Alex Carmichael, as well as very interesting researchers such as Kiel Gilleade whose Body Blogger work monitoring his heart rate is right up my street, as I have my own hacks looking at heart rate and social interaction such as ‘You Make My Heart Flutter‘. Plus Kiel had an informative and entertaining tale to tell about the moments of stress he’s given himself and his friends who are able to watch his heart rate online at and jump to all sorts of conclusions! I’ve managed to freak myself out too by experimenting with wearing heart rate monitors outside the gym, so was smiling at Kiel’s tales.

Lessons from a Year of Heart Rate Data - Kiel Gilleade

If you’d like to view some of the personal self-tracking presentations from Quantified Self EU, including all the examples I mention above, Ernesto Ramirez (who also did a great job of being main stage tech manager at the conference) has posted 33 of them on slideshare for you to peruse

And if you fancy a bit of Quantified Self action yourself there are tons of QS groups springing up all over the world, check the QS site and if there isn’t one in your area you could always start one up!

QS from the back

Teapotty – electronic teapot exploration for Chi-TEK at the V&A

Over the last couple of months I’ve been thinking a lot about teapots…

Teapotty on display in a cabinet at the V&A
Me gazing at Teapotty installed at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

I was asked earlier this year if I’d like to create a tech teapot for the Chi-TEK teapot project, by Mz-TEK, who run a community for women who want to learn about and be creative with technology.

The brief is to create a tech teapot for a tea party and exhibition at the esteemed Victoria and Albert Museum in London. If you’re not familiar with the V&A it’s “the world’s greatest museum of art and design” – it is truly a wonderful place and an honour to be invited to exhibit my work there again.

For the past few weeks I’ve been on an odyssey of explorative adventure fuelled by excitement and enthusiasm for a myriad of ideas for tech teapots.

Ideas for my teapot have evolved from memories of tea marketing from my childhood. From the start I wanted to create something that used magnetic fields and magnetometers because I have a really early TV clip in my head of animated tea leaves diffusing tea in a teabag similar to a magnetic field – yes, silly I know, but it’s stuck in my head all this time. Something else I found really evocative about tea when I was wee, was the Tetley Tea Folk tune, I couldn’t get the score for this anywhere, but Ciaran Anscomb kindly wrote me a music routine for my red Teapotty which plays something similar-ish – it’s converted from 6809 machine code from the game “Tea Time” by Pocket Money Software, that ran on 80s Dragon computers.

I have made five variations of my ‘Teapotty’ project over the last couple of months and below are videos of my three favourites…

Above is the version of Teapotty that is currently on show in the V&A and will be demonstrated at the Chi-TEK tea party weekender.

It runs on C code and an Arduino Uno microcontroller and takes readings from a magnetometer that are influenced by neodymium magnets in a cup, plays a tune and informs the servo to move it to a new position. RGB LEDs (with polymorph heart diffusers) also use the readings from the magnetometer to reflect a colour across the RGB spectrum.

‘Fussy Huffy Teapot Bunny Ears’ is a wearable interactive, that also works with an Arduino Uno, servo, magnetometer and neodymium magnets in a cup to reset the position of the tin teapot. Eventually, tin teapot’s downfall was that it became magnetised and I couldn’t easily degauss it.

This Teapotty is a glass teapot on a battery driven turntable illuminated by LEDs. The music Ive used is ‘Modiste’ by Victor Herbert Orchestra CC Public Domain and available at the Free Music Archive.

Teapotty will be interactive and driving everyone mad as part of The Chi-TEK Tea Party during the London Design Festival at the V&A. Apart from during the Chi-TEK Tea Party, Teapotty will also be on show at the V&A over the next three months accompanied by a video of it and other teapots in action. During this time it will be displayed in a cabinet will so will be switched off.

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.

Temperature sensing t-shirt (AKA: “Yr in mah face!”)

'Yr in mah face' temp-sensing t-shirt

At last weekend’s 24-hour Pachube Hackathon, I created an electronic wearable I wasn’t expecting to make! To clarify that statement, I intended to hack on a LoL Shield I’d recently soldered together (it has 126 LEDs = steady hands needed & much love to the soldering iron ;-)). Unfortunately, I’d mislaid an accelerometer to interact with the LEDs, so it was no go for that hack…

Spaghetti croc clip testing works!

After spreading out all my spare LilyPad Arduino components and kit from my toolbox on the table at Pachube Hackathon, I decided on a new hack – a temperature sensing t-shirt! I spent some time writing and debugging the code before it would happily compile in the Arduino IDE. I then tested the code by uploading it to the LilyPad and connecting all the modules together with crocodile clips, and yay it worked!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

I’m very interested in interactive wearables and so decided to create a t-shirt that would use loop poll Celsius data from a sensor on the t-shirt and average them, then visualise the results. The tshirt uses sewable LilyPad Arduino modules and conductive thread to sew all the connections together.

I didn’t have much time left, once I’d got the code to compile and uploaded it, then tested everything together with the crocodile clips, so the designing, cutting out from fabric and sewing all the fabric and components together with conductive thread was a manic rush. No prizes for tidy sewing and elegant design I’m afraid, but a prototype conceived designed and built is less than 24 hours!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

So here’s the amusing concept scenario… imagine you’re a shy and retiring geek like me, who might find themselves in a social situation, such as a loud, crowded bar. The temperature sensing t-shirt I’m wearing has two cat heads: one green – the colour of cool, calm collected cat – its LED eyes signaling temperatures of less than 27 degrees Celsius, if the wearer were to say have someone at close proximity talking loudly at them, the heat from their breath would push the sensor Celsius average over this point and the LEDs would turn off on the cool calm collected green cat head and come on, on the hot, red, angry coloured cat head!

Creating my hack: early conductive thread sewing

This would be a signal to whomever is causing the angry red cat’s LEDs eyes to light up, to back off “You’re in mah face” or perhaps if the wearer is hot and embarrassed, to have a nice sit down in a corner with a cool drink of lemonade.

Creating my hack: woo done in the nick of time!

Creating my hack: back view, negotiating tracks of conductive thread

But seriously, my t-shirt is a fun proof of concept, I’m very interested in how sensing tech such as temperature sensors can have wider and useful usage. For example, in a society where more of the population is living to a ripe old age, then smart wearables such as temperature and other sensing modules can help older or disabled people, who might need their health monitoring constantly, carry on living at home for longer and keep their independence. Also, I can think of various lifestyle and sporting uses, such as comfortable sports clothes that would also have reasons to track data, plus smart clothing for people who work with extreme temperatures, chemicals or in harsh environments.

Me and my hack - yay it works!

Pachube International Internet of Things Hackathon, London

Pachube hackathon

A fantastically fun 24-hour hackathon organised by Pachube at 01 zero-one, in Soho, London. The hackathon was open to software and hardware hacking, the Pachube APIs, were available to use (hackers could of course use any other APIs of their choosing). The Hackathon was also simultaneously happening in other cities around the globe including Zurich, New York, Lancaster and Eindhoven.

When I arrived at 2pm on Friday, 01 zero-one was packed and I had to squeeze my way through tables of geeks to find a spot to set up my laptop and listen to the opening announcements and demos.

Paul Tanner at Pachube hackathon

Demos included Nanode by Ken Boak, Arkessa’s GSM modems, Paul Tanner on mbed, Adrian McEwen and Michael Margolis were on hand to help with any Arduino questions.

Ken Boak - Nanode

I had intended to hack on an Arduino Duemilanove driven disco shirt using a LoL Shield I’d recently soldered together = a charlieplexed matrix of 126 LEDs! Unfortunately I’d mislaid an accelerometer that was key to the work, so I had to give up on that idea (for now), but cheered myself up by chatting to friends about their hacks and making some new friends.

I did some mulling and consolidating of bits and pieces of LilyPad Arduino components I had with me and decided to start a new project from scratch. My new hack was to be a sensing t-shirt, using LilyPad Arduino, temperature sensor and LEDs. The premise of the t-shirt was to detect if someone was too close to you for comfort, say in a bar and if they were so in your face that the heat from their breath or that you might feel uncomfortable and get hotter – either heat causing a Celsius testing script to sense a temperature over a certain level. This status was reflected on the shirt by two cat heads with LEDs, one green to indicate being cool, calm and collected, the other red and angry/alarmed! Basically the looping script takes a number of sample temperature and averages them to find whether or not the situation is getting horribly hot – this is indicated in the LEDs of the appropriate colour cat head’s eyes lighting up!

Spaghetti croc clip testing works!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

On Friday evening I put the code together and spent a while debugging it to get it to compile. On Saturday morning I connected all the components with crocodile clips to test the code with the hardware – luckily it worked = hurrah! I spent a tense time during the run up till the presentations designing how the shirt should look, working out where the components would go, cutting-up fabric and sewing frantically with conductive thread!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

I was still sewing my hack together when the presentations started, which incurred some rather rushed stitching and some rubbish looking conductive thread bridges (to avoid shorts) on the back of the fabric!

I think I finally finished sewing about 10 mins before the end of presentations and gave a rather on-the-fly talk about my work as I hadn’t really had time to contemplate what I was going to say, but luckily my hack worked for the presentation and relief ensued.

Me and my hack - yay it works!

Presentations

There were some great hacks and some well deserved winners, such as the Waving Kitty, Marvin the Paranoid LaptopBot, Display Cabinet, Nanode hacks and an umbrella that turned lights on and off! I’m looking forward to hearing how the hacks progress…

Presentations: Sarah's Marvin the paranoid laptop bot

Hack winners: Dan, Tim & Ben

Sadly, it was all too soon time to go home, but I had a fabulous time, the welcome and hospitality from Pachube and 01 zero-one was fantastic – cheers guys!

Presentations: Umbreller

Presentations: Lucky Cat hack