Category Archives: electronics

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 Toeters 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 / 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


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.


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

MusicHackTee interactive musical scale t-shirt

Meep, belatedly catching up with blogging about Music Hackday London, which happened back in December 2011 and was held in the wonderfully retro boardrooms of the Barbican, London.

My hack for Music Hackday was an interactive musical t-shirt and as you can see I’ve ‘hacked’ the official Music Hackday t-shirt 😉 I didn’t win any prizes, possibly because just about every sponsor awarded prizes only to people who made apps with their APIs – so a bit disappointing and a bit of an issue for Hackdays.

Basically I wrote a script that allows a LilyPad Arduino to use its pads as a musical keyboard. I’ve elongated these pads to make a musical scale and the user can play tunes in the C scale – C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C

The piece uses LilyPad Arduino with sewable conductive thread, rather than wires to conduct voltage and signal.


To play it the user takes a stylus and plays the notes on the LilyPad pads or can play by touching the conductive thread tracks or pad on the corresponding LEDs which also light up individually when a note is played.

It was also an exercise in acknowledging one’s blushing embarrassment in that it’s quite odd and one feels self conscious to be wearing a musical t-shirt played by someone else – maybe better to stick to playing such things yourself 😉


If you’d like to see some of the hacks, have a peruse of the Music Hackday wiki.

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”.


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.


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?”


  • 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…

“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).

Batteries and wearable technology – frustrations & futures (maybe)

As anyone who has read a couple of my posts will know, I really enjoy creating wearable electronics and art, plus it’s such an exciting time to be working in this area as everything is still to play for in terms of what the future killer apps for wearable technology will be. I’m finding though, that my scope for what I am building and wanting to build is not so much limited by knowledge, imagination and bloody-mindedness to get code and hardware to work together, but increasingly how I can power my portable works without weighing myself down with a plethora of large & lumpy battery packs!

Most of the components and rapid prototyping kit (eg microcontrollers) that I use are not power hungry at around 5< Volts apiece and it’s easy to buy small holders for AA, AAA and coin cell batteries that aren’t too obtrusive if you don’t mind having a pocket sewn into your clothing somewhere strategic and a bit of lumpiness, plus some wiring to hide. But if you want to run more than one component, you get into problems of how to power them simultaneously and it’s usually a no-no if you want to use one small battery pack – then it ends up with me getting my oscilloscope out to try to work out what’s going on.

Hacking the Heart Spark with a proximity sensor - testing on the sillyscope

For time based events, such as a fun night out at White Mischief, wearing electroluminescent accoutrements such as el-wire and panels is fine, but I have to carry a bag of batteries around with me for my 4 x AAA powered inverters that require changing every two hours. It’s not always easy to negotiate a huge tutu and corsetry in toilet cubicles for changing batteries – but I guess you could try to argue that’s my error for choosing such impractical garments, though for a performer a quick battery change is probably a bit more crucial. On the other end of the scale I make electronics for more minimalist garments such as t-shirts and necklaces, which can induce a conundrum to find somewhere to hide the batteries!

Hactivate: battery pouch made

I’ve considered using Li-Po batteries, which are in common use in mobile phones and the laptop I’m typing on right now, and people do use them for wearables. Personally, I’m not convinced I’d want them close to my skin as they can get hot or in garments that stand a chance of getting wet or punctured as Li-Pos can be rather volatile (& I have considered making polymorph cases for them). They’re not fundamentally unsafe, they’re just a little more cumbersome to charge than my regular household rechargeable batteries as they require a bit of attention to monitor charging correctly. I have them for use with microcontrollers already and I have a fire retardant charging bag for them as most guides recommend this, plus that you don’t leave them unattended while they’re charging. I’d be a bit hesitant to sell someone a garment that had Li-Po batteries if they hadn’t used them before.

LiPo-safe bag

My wearable technology work isn’t confined to arty el-wire outfits, I’m very interested in sensing wearables and have a stack of sensors that I use singularly or combined for tracking and sensing purposes., plus I have loads of other interactive components and conductive materials for pieces of work that have various current draws that I’d like to have some longevity and reliability.

Twinkle Tartiflette on new mannequin

In the wider world there are multiple areas and uses for wearable technology to consider that urgently need better battery capabilities. Firstly, medical wearables would really benefit from extended battery life, for example, my dear uncle has a pacemaker, which has a battery that needs to be replaced every 5-ish years, so for him battery life means another invasive procedure, with the stress and risks of infection, etc, which he could happily do without. Other, non-invasive wearable medical devices might give a good deal of relief and freedom to users if the batteries didn’t require a swinging handbag full of battery to cart them about. Sounds a small price to pay for freedom, but it would probably make life a bit easier if they weren’t so heavy, increase uptake of usage – plus take some of the stress out of choosing whether to use / invest in wearable / portable medical aids.

There’s also dangerous / extreme environments uses of wearable tech, where users may be out in the field or location for weeks at a time in extreme conditions, so you don’t really want your batteries to fail you or be a house brick round your neck when you’re already packing a lot of kit. You really need them light, very long lasting and capable of smart power allocation to make the best of each charge. It seems the military have the serious funding for tech advancements for wearables and I see a lot of awards for work in this area. Though how long it will take for the fruits from this research to be revealed and trickle down into for civilian use is anyone’s guess, but any battery enhancing revelations would be so useful for medical wearables, as well as lifestyle usage.

With the 2012 Olympics less than a year away, we shouldn’t overlook sports wearables either – as broadcasters wish to bring the sportsperson’s experience into our homes as well as athletes wishing for ever more robust measures of their performance – it’s not going to help if they’re running with a brick on their backs!

Battery life for portable electronics is a daily bugbear for a lot of people, most commonly smart phone users – many having to carry their chargers around with them or include remembering to plug in and charge every night in their bedtime routines. Addicted as I am to checking my email & Twitter (yeah, I know) I’d love to have my phone connected to the interwibbles all the time (yes, connectivity is often crap too), so I can just get an alert if I’m waiting for an email, reply or DM – I can’t have my mobile connected to 3G / wifi all the time the though as it’ll run my battery down really quickly. This makes for a very ‘opaque’ technology – I have to keep stopping what I’m doing and switching it on and off again, rather than a transparent technology that allows me to get on with my with what I’m doing as it checks things for me in the background. A classic example of this is me rushing off somewhere and nearly coming a cropper or being late because I’m faffing about with multiple phone screens as I connect and check my mail on my phone – oh yes and not forgetting the embarrassment of appearing rude in the middle of a conversation with a human IRL as I blatantly fumble with my phone for a couple of minutes!

I really believe that battery issues are majorly holding back integration and uptake of wearable technology into the mainstream – we have the capability to make very small components and wonderful inventions, but not so the batteries to power them for useful lengths of time or that do not require a trailing powerpack or brick of a battery in my undergarments!

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

Ho hum, whilst I’m waiting for useful battery technology advancements, I’ve been looking into energy harvesting & scavenging technologies. Piezoelectrics and electrostatics are a good bet for biomechanical charging as if we can use our bodies and movement such as walking, dancing or just waving an arm to charge small pieces of wearable technology I’ll be very jolly. Plus there’s thermoelectrics that convert temperature differences from say the heat of your dancing feet to the temperature of the floor into an electric voltage (aka the Seebeck effect).

The above technologies would also be fantastic for remote areas and extreme environments where access to the grid or generators is minimal, plus would get a star for cutting down on pollution and energy costs. Unfortunately, I haven’t got very far in finding kits or components available to DIY this tech myself and am looking forward to access to this tech cascading down to peeps like myself soon. I’ve also got a small solar panel that charges a battery for emergency use, this is dependent on having access to sunlight, but unfortunately for me my particular off the shelf solar battery is just frustratingly crap even if I leave it in the summer sun all day, but that’s just bad gadget luck / design, rather than the overarching technology. Doing much better are thin sliver solar cells that are very thin and so are quite flexible and can be worn on garments and are complementary to extreme climates, they seem to have the military interested at least!

Anyway, to sum up, in my humble opinion it’s the military who currently seem most determined to find a solution for developing better battery life for wearables and portable computing, they have the drive and the funding. From my own research, piezoelectrics, electrostatics and thermoelectrics – energy scavenging / harvesting technology is the most fun, green and compelling solution for recharging batteries for low power wearables at the moment, especially in footwear and garments where components can find some space to be hidden away. There’s tons of stuff going on in nanotech improved batteries, better / smaller lithium-ion tech as well as different yarns, fibres, textiles and substrates such as graphene for deployment. Also changes in charging / battery management technology will get better perhaps, so that charging a battery only takes a few seconds rather than hours and will also release a charge more effectively.

Finally, I feel the demand for constant connectivity from consumers will get more urgent as battery drain in mobiles becomes more infuriating to users and drives technology brands to come up with solutions. There are currently teams working in research labs all over the world trying to crack this nut, so I am hoping the results will be fantastic and don’t take too long to get to us – the future, development and uptake of wearable technology depends on it!

Hactivate: You make my <3 flutter

Ada Lovelace Day, 2011: Sarah Angliss, Intrepid Engineer

Ada Lovelace Day aims to raise the profile of women working in technology, engineering, maths and science by celebrating their work and hopefully creating new role models to encourage and inspire others to follow a career, study or a hobby in these disciplines.

Sarah & her speaking teapot

For Ada Lovelace Day, 2011, I’m writing about my good friend: the multi-talented artist, composer and performer, Sarah Angliss. Sarah is an engineer trained in electro-acoustics, music and robotics and also holds a master’s degree in evolutionary and adaptive systems. Her work combines technology with vintage sound equipment and intertwines spooky science stories and eclectic curiosities into the mix.


She has also been a creator of sound installation pieces for events, exhibitions, and live shows since 1996, featuring robots such as Clara 2.0, the ‘polite robot thereminist’, Hugo, the haunting singing ventriloquist’s dummy, The Ealing Feeder a 28-note, polyphonic, electromechanical carillon and the somewhat scary crooning Edgar Allan Crow – whose eyes you must not look into!

Uncanny Valley: Edgar Allen Crow

On top of all this, Sarah has also led projects such as Infrasonic, as research project to explore emotional effects of extreme bass sound. Sarah is also a writer and gives talks about vintage technology oddities and poses questions such as “We know we can teach birds to talk and sing. But were birds ever used as primordial, feathered music recorders?” as discussed in her Radio 4 documentary “The Bird Fancyer’s Delight”, which aired in July 2011. Talks include her fascinating talk at TEDx Brighton, “Loving the Machine” which drew connections between two types of dance music which developed a century apart and were created by people were working to the relentless beat of factory machines.

Uncanny Valley: Hugo

Sarah performs as part of Spacedog with her sister Jenny, compere Colin, plus robot and human guests such as Professor Elemental. Their repertoire includes much spooky exploration into the depths of technology folklore paired with intriguing and inventive use of instruments such as the theremin, spangley water instrument and the saw. In their recent award winning Televisor show they “summon the spirit of John Logie Baird as they perform with flickering projections, created live on their working reconstruction of Baird’s original 1920s televisor”.

Spacedog being spookeh at BMMF party

There’s tons more stuff I could mention, so please have a peruse through her website(s) to find out more. A perfect afternoon out with Sarah would include having some tea & caek, some rummaging and tinkering in a bag of electronics components (as she’s always hacking at something) and plotting some electronics mayhem – the lady is a proper geek – hurrah \o/