Category Archives: events

International Symposium on Wearable Computers 2013 (ISWC), ETH Zurich, Switzerland

At the International Symposium on Wearable Technology, Zurich 2013

I had a great time at the 17th International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC), held this year at ETH Zurich, Switzerland alongside UbiComp. This year there was a record amount of submissions for all calls: papers, posters, Gadget Show and the Design Exhibition. The full programme and abstracts can be found here.

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

Me with my EEG Visualising Pendant

This year I submitted my EEG Visualising Pendant for selection in the Design Exhibition. The pendant uses EEG (Electroencephalography) signals, which are gleaned from a NeuroSky MindWave Mobile, 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 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. More information on the EEG Visualising Pendant can be found here.

During the Design Exhibition, I was interviewed by BBC Technology News, the coverage can be found here. I was also filmed by Swiss TV.

Here’s my short video tour around the Design Exhibition

Rachael's fab fibre optic dress
Fiber Optic Corset Dress

Including my work, there were fourteen exhibits in the Design Exhibition, here’s a brief listing of them:

Fiber Optic Corset Dress (above), by Rachael Reichert, James Knight, Lisa Ciafaldi and Keith Connelly of Cornell University, USA, which glowed wonderfully in the darkened exhibition space. The dress also features in Rachael’s short film CyBelle Horizon.

Gorgeous Lüme

Lüme (above) by Elizabeth E. Bigger, Luis E. Fraguada, Jorge & Esther and built by Associative Data, is a series of garments that incorporate embedded electronics which illuminate based on the wearer’s selection of colour and other choices, controlled from a smartphone. The garments shone and changed colour beautifully. Lüme won the Design Exhibition prize in the aesthetic garment category.

E-Shoe: A High Heeled Shoe Guitar

E-Shoe: A High Heeled Shoe Guitar, by Alex Murray-Leslie, Melissa Logan and Max Kibardin of the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, is an intriguing and startlingly captivating shoe guitar that was created to explore acoustics in wearable technology and the practicalities of instruments for live multi-modal performances.

Brace Yourself – The World’s Sexiest Knee “Brace”

Brace Yourself – The World’s Sexiest Knee “Brace” by Crystal Compton and Guido Gioberto of the University of Minnesota, USA, is an interesting and playful look at how a stocking incorporating a bend sensor can be used to track movement in the leg in a new and more aesthetically pleasing way.

Play the Visual Music

Play the Visual Music by Helen Koo of Auburn University, USA, is a garment for musicians and performers which responds to sound and intended to provide visual multi-sensory stimulations to the audience.

Garment with Stitched Stretch Sensors that Detects Breathing +  AVAnav: Helmet-Mounted Display for Avalanche Rescue Jason O. Germany

Garment with Stitched Stretch Sensors that Detects Breathing & AVAnav: Helmet-Mounted Display for Avalanche Rescue

AVAnav: Helmet-Mounted Display for Avalanche Rescue, by Jason O. Germany of the University of Oregon, USA, has developed a series of prototypes to assist rescue teams locate buried avalanche victims.

Haptic Mirror Therapy Glove by James Hallam of Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, is a glove that allows the stimulation of a paretic hand’s fingers following a stroke by tapping the fingers of the unaffected hand. James’ glove won the functional category prize in the Design Exhiibition.

At the International Symposium on Wearable Technology, Zurich 2013

Garment for rapid prototyping of pose-based applications, by Jacob Dennis, Robert Lewis, Tom Martin, Mark Jones, Kara Baumann, John New and Taylor Pearman of Virginia Tech, USA, is a loose fitting body-suit as the title suggests for rapid prototyping of pose-based applications.

Garment with Stitched Stretch Sensors that Detects Breathing, by
Mary Ellen Berglund, Guido Gioberto, Crystal Compton of the University of Minnesota, USA, is intended to be “a comfortable, everyday athletic garment incorporating a breathing sensor to monitor the activities of crewmembers on NASA missions”.

IMG_3730


A Wearable Sensing Garment to Detect and Prevent Suit Injuries for Astronauts
, by Crystal Compton, Reagan Rockers, Thanh Nguyen of the University of Minnesota, USA, was developed using pressure sensors to help detect and resolve areas of injury in spacesuits.

Garment Body Position Monitoring and Gesture Recognition by Sahithya Baskaran, Norma Easter, Cameron Hord, Emily Keen and Mauricio Uruena of Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, was designed to recognise arm movements that might lead to repetitive strain injuries and capture data on reaction time.

The Photonic Bike Clothing IV for Cute Cyclist

The Photonic Bike Clothing IV for Cute Cyclist by
Jiyoung Kim and Sunhee Lee Dong-A of the University of South Korea, uses solar panels to power heat pads to aid the comfort of the rider.

Strokes & Dots by Valérie Lamontagne is a collection of garments which are part of a research project looking at fostering advancement of creative innovation and aesthetics in wearable technology.

During the ISWC main conference, there were so many interesting papers presented, my favourites included:

Eagerly waiting for FIDO: Ficilitating Interactions for Dogs with Ocupations

Blitz the dog preparing for the FIDO presentation!

FIDO – Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations: Wearable Dog-Activated Interfaces by Melody Jackson, Thad Starner and Clint Zeagler of
Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. This research looks at how assistance dogs can communicate more directly with their human companions by using a wearable system of sensors embedded in an a dog jacket, activated by pulling, biting and nose touching. Examples shown included human companions who needed precise alerts to be given to them, such as a dog who could distinguish between a doorbell and a tornado alert and raise an alarm, and other canine companions who could get help from others in the case of a medical emergency. What fascinated me about this research is how intelligent and individual it showed the dogs to be, for example in the Q&A it emerged that some dogs can remember over 1000 commands or words and respond differently depending on breed and temperament. Another point that came out of the Q&A was how with the dogs help, this technology could be really valuable to people with severe disabilities such as ‘locked-in’ syndrome.

Lucy Dunne conducts Q&A with Halley Profita on Don't Mind Me Touching My Wrist: A Case Study of Interacting with On-Body Technology in Public

Halley Profita and Lucy Dunne during the Q&A

Don’t Mind Me Touching My Wrist: A Case Study of Interacting with On-Body Technology in Public by Halley Profita, James Clawson, Scott Gilliland, Clint Zeagler, Thad Starner, Jim Budd and Ellen Yi-Luen Do of University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. This piqued my interest as it examined social acceptability of wearables via how people felt about the placing of an e-textile ‘jogwheel’ (a circular controller) on specific parts of the body, their attitudes to where it was placed and why. The insights were both fascinating and amusing. The study used both male and female testers and used the setting of a lift as a public place. The testing was done in the US and Korea to find out how differing cultural attitudes affected the study. Korea was an interesting choice as contrary to the US couples do not hold hands or show affection in public and interacting with a wearable on the body did highlight different cultural attitudes to the body and personal space. The paper discusses a whole load of insights from the research, but to be brief, the study showed the torso to be the most awkward place to wear the e-textile jogwheel and the wrist and forearm to be the least awkward place to wear it. A majority of wearers found the e-textile jogwheel a potentially ‘useful’ device.

Sensor-Embedded Teeth for Oral Activity Recognition

Sensor-Embedded Teeth for Oral Activity Recognition by Cheng-Yuan Li, Yen-Chang Chen, Wei-Ju Chen, Polly Huang and Hao-hua Chu of the National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan. This presentation discussed how a tri-axial accelerometer system could recognise oral activities such as talking, chewing, drinking and laughing. The system results showed “93.8% oral activity recognition accuracy when using a person-dependent classifier and 59.8%
accuracy when using a person-independent classifier.” They discussed the uses for this such as dietary tracking. I found this research quite intriguing as I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to self quantify and will look out for news of their future work in this area.

Thad Starner Keynote 'Through the looking glass'  at ISWC / Ubicomp

Thad Starner giving his keynote.

Wearable Computing: Through the Looking Glass by Thad Starner of Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. Although I’ve read so many articles about Google Glass and possibly talked the hind leg off a donkey on the topic of Glass / lifelogging / privacy / surveillance / sousveillance in the last 18 months, I was still really looking forward to hearing Thad, who is also Technical Lead/Manager on Google’s Project Glass, talk about the device and discuss its tech specs. As Thad was previously part of the MIT Media Lab ‘Borg’ collective alongside Steve Mann, I was especially looking forward to hearing him present his thoughts on and about the history of wearable computing. I really enjoyed his talk and insights and best of all he brought along a box of some of his old head mounted display projects, one of which I cheekily tried on, see photo below.

Cheekily trying on Thad Starner's computer / Twiddler glasses at   at ISWC / Ubicomp - I hope he didn't mind ;-)

ISWC 2013 was fantastic and I loved Zurich, next year it moves on to Seattle, being the last year (paws crossed) of my PhD, I hope I’ll have the time (thesis beckons) and money (am running out of cash) to get there! Many thanks to Lucy Dunne and Troy Nachtigall for all their hard work organising the Design Exhibition, and to Kristof Van Laerhoven, the programme committee, volunteers, speakers, exhibitors and attendees who made the conference such an excellent and thought provoking experience. Not forgetting to say thanks too for all the great vegan food that was organised for me!

Makers’ Guild: Making and Wearable Technology, C4CC

Fiddian welcomes everyone

I had a great evening at Makers’ Guild meet-up on Making and Wearable Technology at C4CC in Kings Cross. As the event title suggests, it was an evening of talks around various aspects of wearable technology. Fiddian Warman was our genial host on one of the hottest days of the year and kept us cool with a selection of chilled beverages.

Camille Baker presenting on 'Hacking the Body'

First up was Camille Baker, who is a media artist, curator and researcher, currently lecturing at Brunel University. She gave a compelling talk on ‘Hacking the Body’, a project that looks at the convergence of biosensors, wearable technology and performance. Her research looks at repurposing hacked data from sensors on around the body for performance and installation. Camille also showed some other examples of research, such as the Phillips SKIN project, which looks at emotional sensing via ‘soft technology’ garments.

Me presenting 'On Wearable Technology, Makers & Making'

Second up, was myself. I gave a rambling introduction to wearable technology from early examples, such as abacus rings of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) to the influence of science fiction, with some ideas from Star Trek that have come to fruition in real life, to cyborgs and ethics. I also spoke about how Makers have become involved with wearable tech in terms of making and also teaching and passing on skills. Finally I showed examples of my two latest wearable tech projects, the Baroesque Barometric Skirt and EEG Visualising Pendant.

Third up, was Alex Glowaski, who is a curious Hacker and Maker from San Francisco, she gave a great talk about ‘NFC (Near Field Communication) for Wearables’. Alex compared the technologies of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and NFC for using in wearable tech, plus also gave some info on other tech such as Bluetooth and QR codes. The highlight of Alex’s talk (for me) was a user case and video demonstrating her Cheer Follower fitness tracker which uses NFC – I’m looking forward to hearing news on how this exciting project progresses.

Alex Glowaski presenting on 'NFC for Wearables'

There followed some interesting Q&A before decanting to the pub for excellent conversations and swapping info on projects and ideas. Thanks very much to Fidd for organising, Camille and Alex for being fabulous, to C4CC for hosting and to all the lovely people who came along.

Alex Glowaski's video on Cheer Follower wearable tech

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

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

QCon London

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

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

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

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

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

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

The business of Making / Makers’ Guild at the Crafts Council

For most inventor / makers taking the decision to move from being creative in one’s spare time to doing it for a living is a bit of an expensive gamble and rather daunting. If you’re self employed for the first time, providing a service or going into product manufacturing there are so many questions to ask when taking those first steps, such as: how much should you charge and how does one factor in all the research and development time, what about all the cost of all components, tools and kit (like those giant tin snips)? Plus legal headaches around contracts, agreements, insurance, liability and IP, oh and don’t forget sustainability, thoughts around open source, robustness, longevity and fit for purpose-ness that fun new technology practices bring… Arghh *brainspoldes*! And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, there’s yet to evolve a go-to resource for UK Makers get the answers or advice to these pressing questions.

Components

Personally, I’ve been following links and tips from the myriad of inventors sites (& ignoring ‘inventor promoter’ scams!). For standard business info there’s Business Link & HMRC. I’ve also found my local business enterprise club has some good workshops and seminars on sole trader issues, tax and marketing. Plus if you’re close to London, the British Library Business Centre has some really good free and paid for workshops, seminars and surgeries. There’s also funding and support from initiatives such as the Technology Strategy Board, NESTA and Kickstarter.

Starting a Business for Dummies

So in July I was really pleased to hear about the launch at NESTA of Makers’ Guild ‘a membership organization to support and promote ‘Makers’ of all flavours from artists to technicians, from coders to crafters’, which has been founded by Rachel Coldicutt and Fiddian Warman. It was good to go along and hear talks from fellow makers, inventors and founders, plus chat to like-minded people. They have a website and I’m looking forward to when they have time to populate it with some more info – that wasn’t sarcasm, it takes time to build these resources up, what with having a life, etc, so I wonder if it might be an idea to give a shout to the maker community to get behind it and to submit their fav links, biogs, articles and some guests on the forum to get the ball rolling? [Gah, that’s me with my ex-BBC senior producer hat on]

Anyway, last Friday I went along to the Maker’s Guild’s next event: ‘Makers’ Money – the business of making’ at the lovely Crafts Council offices, where the Makers’ Guild put on three talks by inventors/makers who were getting on with the business of commercially making or supporting makers.

It was really inspiring to hear some personal stories, so if you’re an inventor, a maker or interested is what’s going on in this area, look the following entrepreneurs up!

First up was Jane ní Dhulchaointigh of sugru (patented as Formerol) which is a multi-purpose variant of silicone that is rather like modeling clay and can be used for making, modifying and fixing things – I’ve seen it at Maker Faire, but haven’t had a play with it yet. It’s had rave reviews, TIME Magazine listed sugru alongside the iPad as one of the top 50 inventions of 2010. Jane is as former product design student of the Royal College of Art, where she experimented with mixing various materials together such as bathroom sealant and sawdust, which lead to her realising the potential to develop a useful substance. NESTA Creative Pioneer and angel funding gave her the opportunity to start a business, fund development, design and do user trials. The first 1000 packs sold out in 6 hours and now sugru has customers in 76 countries and a factory in east London. Jane hopes to break even in a year or so.

Jane ní Dhulchaointigh of sugru

Up next was Christopher Pett of Makersco, who realised there was a niche for uniqueness and smaller scale production. This service grew from a postgraduate innovation research project at Goldsmiths College. His company makes life for makers and designers easier by taking ideas and designs from concept and working them up to prototyping, testing, analysis, production and supply chain management. They don’t take any IP from makers and work with UK manufacturers and suppliers. Makers also help with marketing strategy, brand guidelines and sales materials. Christopher also runs Pli Design – a sustainable furniture design company, specialising in bamboo.

Christopher Pett of Makers Co and Pli Design

Last but not least, was Mark Champkins, an inventor who started making things for his family business when he was a schoolboy. His company, Concentrate, is all about making accessories that help children concentrate and be more productive at school, such as a pencil case / water bottle hybrid and a bag that also drapes across a chair to make it more comfortable. He was lucky to build up a good relationship with a buyer at John Lewis who helped him hone his product ideas for their customers. Mark went on Dragons Den, not to get money, but for publicity, but he still got funding. He is also the Science Museum’s Inventor in Residence where he is doing a product range based on their archives. He’s also written a book on celebrity inventions!

 Mark Champkins of Concentrate Design

After the individual talks a panel Q&A discussion followed where topics such as open product licensing: digital to physical came up and the Awesome Foundation money awards were discussed (there’s a London chapter). A few people stood up and introduced themselves and their ideas, which was very relaxed, followed by a bit of saying hello to friends & making new ones before hometime.

Thanks to Maker’s Guild for organising & Crafts Council for hosting. I’m looking forward to the next event.

Thinking Digital 2011, Sage Gateshead, Day 2

Ian & Herb at TDC closing party

Even though I was worn out by all the information and ideas that Thinking Digital day one thrust into my head, I was up early (for me) and bounced over to The Sage for day two’s talks. Here are the potted highlights of my day via my rambling notes…

Firstly for me, Matthew Postgate, controller of BBC R&D, whose perspective I always find interesting, plus having worked for BBC R&D under Matthew’s leadership I’m always pleased to hear about the deptartment.

His talk, entitled ‘“Who needs telly when we’ve got each other”: how broadcasters will thrive in the information age’, took a look at how broadcasting is shifting from the industrial age to the information age and how this will challenge and change broadcasting as we know it.

He kicked off by saying about his role “It’s about helping the smart guys do the ideas”. Matthew talked about BBC’s mantra – inform educate and entertain in terms of broadcasting being live and having an immediacy, topicality, persistence and a level of quality.

IMG_5562

He also showed a couple of demos, one was R&D’s Surround Video project which uses a fish-eye mirror to project video around a room beyond the television, which give an immersive experience of ‘being there’. The other was from a BBC nature programme (AutumnWatch, I think) and I recall Matthew quipping “I never thought I’d show a trout in a presentation!”

He said that new context creates challenges for broadcasters, in terms of:

  • New entrants
  • Creative competitiveness
  • Radically reducing costs
  • Adopting a global perspective
  • Re-imagining our relationship with the archive
  • Understanding a two0way relationship with audiences

- Guaranteeing access: a digital public space

Matthew acknowledged the democratisation and choice of technology and content, which is giving everyone the opportunity to be their own broadcast channel. Looking forward, Matthew commented “This is very much a future that is going to be created by collaboration and the BBC is very much committed to open innovation and open research.”

TDC: BBC's Matthew Postgate & Herb Kim

At the end there was time for a couple of questions, he was asked about
listening to audiences and answered “We always start with the audience in mind’ and went on to say “you used to be able to send in a SAE (stamped addressed envelope) but new media takes this to a new level. Journalists engage with twitter and the BBC is trying to come up with a new language – it’s much more about that interaction.”

TDC: Dr Vincent W. Li on eating to beat cancer

Dr Vincent W. Li, co-founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation gave a heartfelt talk about angiogenesis, or new blood vessel growth. Dr Vincent informed us that Angiogenesis helps the body heal wounds and grow essential blood vessels during our lifetime, but during times of disease the growing mechanism can get out of balance and that’s when ‘antiangiogenesis’ can occur. One of the diseases is cancer and he told us most cancers are not discovered until they’re in an advanced stage and hard to treat, so finding ways to stop them growing so quickly and spreading is crucial. Dr Vincent ponders, if antiangiogenesis is the trigger, how do we cut off the blood supply?

The Angiogenesis Foundation is looking at ways to prevent and starve various diseases of by investigating foods that act as blood supply inhibitors to diseases in both humans and animal companions. There’s also another interesting side to this, in communities where access to expensive drugs is prohibitive, eating to prevent or slow down disease is a way of using this concept to help people help themselves.

IMG_5615
A list of the good stuff to eat!

In the future Dr Vincent and his team are looking to get a number score system added to nutritional food facts to display a food’s ranking on the inhibitor list and a set of tasty recipes for those who want to follow the diet as some foods, such as tomatoes, work better cooked or combined with others.

I found Dr Vincent’s talk fascinating as although I do like my caeks, I try to follow a healthy vegan diet. I was lucky enough to catch-up with Dr Vincent briefly before he left to ask a question and hear a couple that friends had for him. I wonder if his foundation and The Quantified Self (as mentioned by Walter de Brouwer yesterday) could work together on the numbers system?

Jer Thorp is a digital artist from Vancouver, presently living in New York, he gave a talk on reflecting histories with mathematical design.

He did a live demo of The New York Times Cascade data visualization project that he’s been recently working on. It gives a detailed image of how information flows via social media, so one can track the history of a story or event.

TDC: Jer Thorpe on data visualisation

He also talked about his work on the National September 11th Memorial at Ground Zero in New York. He’d been working on it last year when he appeared at Thinking Digital in 2010, but had been under NDA to not speak about it till only recently. Jer was asked to produce an algorithm that would lay out all the names of the people who were killed on September 11th including those at the Pentagon. The 2900 names were to be places around the pools of the site, 1400 of these had adjacency requests for example friends or workers who had died together or were family. The clusters of names requested to be together could get quite large, the biggest was a group of 70 whose families wanted them to be together. Jer had the task of trying to get the names to work with panels, corners that would wrap and panels that didn’t join. He also had to work with typography, plus the groups and departments of people to fit in too. What made it difficult was that there were to be no visible groupings or clusters or noticeable breaks – this proved very difficult. Jer solved the problem, part maths and part typography, with his bespoke algorithm. This kept the architect Michael Arad happy too! The memorial that will be made in bronze will open on September 11th this year.

He finished with a quick demo of Openpaths.cc from the NY Times R&D Lab, it’s a site to track travel history via the location data collected by iPhones. It tracks a path on a map and the user can look back to see where they’ve been on certain dates or show friends and family a location on a momentous occasion. It’s also a research project, so if a user happy to share your data it becomes part of a bigger research piece. Openpaths.cc allows one to revisit up to a year of travel data and people find they have an emotional response to replaying their personal narrative and history. This is quite a nice idea, but as I don’t have an iPhone this site doesn’t work for me – I wonder if there’s something similar for Android?

Tan Le, entrepreneur and co-founder of Emotiv neuroengineering company demonstrated the EPOC brainwave headset and software. Her introduction mentioned EEG as a non-evasive way at looking at how the brain is functioning and how the brain is constantly rewiring itself, learning and can rehabilitate itself – that evidence suggests our synapses are not hard-wired, but are changing all the time.

TDC: Tan Le on Emotiv brainwave technology

She talked about how up to now we’ve had to give machines commands to get them to do anything, whereas humans use body language also to convey information. Tan then showed data on her brainwave visualisation software and gave a live demo of it working with the help of a glamorous volunteer, Rob Colling of Internet Subtitling, who put on an spidery looking EPOC brainwave headset. The audience cheered as the headset software showed some activity in Rob’s brain in the form of regions lighting up in different colours on the back projected software, but the real fun started when Tan instructed Rob how to move a box up and down on-screen with his thoughts! Rob has written an excellent post about this experience.

To illustrate some of possibilities for usage of the Emotiv technology, Tan showed a video of someone driving a car with it (slightly scary but amusing) and an artist using it to create mood artworks.

I enjoyed the demo immensely and was amazed to hear from Tan that the headset is possibly affordable and even as she was speaking I was looking up the prices for the developer set and SDK, though hope the contacts on the headset would work with my big frizzy mess of hair – I have some ideas already – watch out!

TDC: Tom Scott on Facebook privacy

To round off Thinking Digital, geek comedian Tom Scott performed a live experiment in social media privacy using Facebook, it was quite hilarious and caused a few people in the audience to check their privacy settings.

Afterwards, all that was left to do was skip over to the Baltic for the closing party and it was all the better for Ian Forrester being back this year after missing it due to #hisbrushwithdeath in 2010.

Ian, Tim & me at TDC closing party

To sum up, I had a very enjoyable Thinking Digital 2012, it was ran like clockwork, it exhausted me as usual and I took some very interesting ideas home with me to think about. Plus I got to catch-up with great friends and made some new ones along the way – sadly there wasn’t any vegan caek – so next year I might bring my own ;-P

Congrats and thanks to Herb Kim and the Codeworks organisers and of course the speakers who were great!

TDC: thanks for the Codeworks team

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.

Ghost Ship Porthole electroluminescent dress

For White Mischief’s fabulous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea themed extravaganza, I wanted to create something suitably inspired. I daydreamed about Jules Verne, sunken adventures, ships and galleons, then came up with the idea for a ‘Ghost Ship Porthole’ dress. To elaborate, I decided to use electroluminescent neon panels to illuminate sea-faring motifs so in the dark my dress would glow with a spooky light shining out of a ghost ship’s portholes.

Electroluminescent panel portholes

The motifs I sourced from vintage stencils and illustrations of anchors, seahorses, Japanese Koi, ship’s cats, pirate skulls and more. In this case, the portholes were limited in number by the amount of spare splitters (cable/sockets to power source) I happened to have.

Electroluminescent panel portholes

I plan to scale this dress up and incorporate accessories, I ran out of time to make the neon-ghost ship for my tricorn hat, but that’ll be made in time for the next calling of the Ghost Ship Porthole dress!

Electroluminescent panelled me

PS, If you haven’t been to a White Mischief event yet – do go, they’re wonderful!

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

Smart Fabrics 2011, Hotel Russell, London – Phreaking Fashion!

As a pre-conference warmer for Smart Fabrics 2011, on Monday I went along to Nancy Tilbury’s Fashion Phreaking workshop. Nancy’s has been working in wearable technology for 15 years and runs the Nancy Tilbury Studios, plus teaches MA at Kingston University.

Nancy Tilbury Studio examples

The session kicked off with an introduction to the studio, Kingston Uni MA and Nancy’s experiences in making wearable tech. She told us about how this area has swung in and out of fashion since she was studying. She recalled how in the past wearable tech examples were often clumsy and cumbersome and the fashion companies of the day weren’t keen to engage with it.

However, interest is now picking up in wearable tech and Nancy has been working with various clients and students who are interested in probing and uncovering future lifestyles, creating pieces in the form of benchmarks and prototypes.

In taking stock, Nancy says, “We’re at a point where we need to engage with science and science needs to engage with design to form hybrid partnerships.” She went on to pose “Why is the time now?’ and described that it’s because of what’s happening in entertainment, for example, Lady Gaga is working with many wearable tech artists *and* also people now want the skins of their life to be digital.

Blushing dress

We heard about and saw a range of themes on wearable tech from over the years since Nancy was a student. One theme, emotional technology, looked at the Blushing Dress: which had on the base a suite of sensors, plus one for the hand. As the wearer becomes emotionally aroused, the dress changes.

Mini Wink workshop

The rest of the afternoon was spent as a workshop and we split into teams of 3 or 4 people and created ‘Mini Wink’ pocket patches to sew onto shorts. The patches and shorts were constructed from recycled denim. The Mini Wink patches use LilyPad Arduino (a sewable microcontroller PCB) connected to a soft switch and circuit made from copper fabric. Once constructed you tap the soft switch on the pocket and the shorts would wink at back at you via misted plastic pyramid shapes containing LEDs. Each team was given a kit with a slightly different circuit to construct, which included a conductive thread sewing kit, copper pieces, LEDs, their coverings and a coin battery.

Mini Wink pocket

It was a fun workshop; a great ice-breaker for meeting people and everyone who attended clearly enjoyed themselves. The session was followed by a fashion show of the Mini Wink pockets in action. During the Smart Fabrics conference reception drinks the Mini Winks were on display for all to see.

Team Twinkle Mini Wink pocket

Flashing away above is our Team Twinkle Mini Wink pocket!

Maker Faire UK, Newcastle

Busy Maker Faire UK
Maker Faire main hall – there were several other rooms…

On 12-13th March the third Maker Faire UK took place at Newcastle’s Centre for Life as part of their Science Week. I have no idea what it’s like to visit an American Maker Faire and I *boggle* at what the sheer scale of their events must be like as I hear that about 80 thousand people visit them! But, what I do know is that the UK Maker Faire is one of the best technology and science events you can ever visit in the UK. Why? It’s because Maker Faire is all about getting to participate and have fun, whether it be playing with sound, solder, a pinhole camera, bacteria, making a pie or knitting a neuron, the visitor gets to experience tech and science first hand, it’s participatory and not a sitting back and watching experience.

Maker Faire
The Room of 29 Things stand

This year, Maker Faire UK was twice the size as last year and if I remember correctly last year was twice as big as the first. I must say I’m pleased that Maker Faire UK has grown so quickly over the last two years and aroused so much interest, as technology and science certainly has the best toys. But seriously, it’s a brilliant way to encourage and nurture fledgling (and not so fledgling) interest in these subjects, I remember science certainly wasn’t so much fun when I was at skool and it’s also really, really important to encourage engineers and scientists of the future for all sorts of reasons. Finally, I’m also pleased it grew in size enough not to be in a chilly marquee, as I remember how chilly it was for the first Maker Faire UK ;-)

Space Science
Space Science ladies showing kids some fun stuff

I had my own stall this year, a bit of an undertaking as previously I’d been on the BBC R&D stand, but I enthusiastically set out with two trolleys, a rucksack and two bags (a slight mare to steer all that lot of ones own is an understatement) but I managed to make it to Newcastle for Friday set up day. I took three interactive LilyPad Arduino interactive sound artworks: Twinkle Tartiflette, I <3 0X0 and Twinkle Starduino, plus a selection of my electroluminescent wearables, including the Neon-Victoriana Queen outfit and crown.

Me at Maker Faire UK
Me and some of my electroluminescant / microcontroller wearables

My stand at Maker Faire
Sideways look at my stand

Hats off and huge thanks to the organisers and all the makers and hackers who put on such an inspiring show. I’ve tried to compile a list of inspirations, but as I was on my stand just about the whole show (except for running out to get lunch), I didn’t really get to view the rest of the show but I reckon my hacking heros Mitch Altman and Jimmie Rodgers must have helped a couple of thousand peeps have a go at soldering a blinking LED badge and the London Hackspacers (there were several other UK Hackspaces represented too) got up to mischief with Brightarcs’ tesla coils! At lunchtime I peered over the atrium to see tons of people having fun with Jam Jar and Curiosity Collective’s toys. Next to me were the Room of Things 29 with Bubblino and other exciting hacks, and on the other side Clockwork Zeppelin were inspiring people with their Steampunk jewellery workshop. I also saw my former BBC R&D colleagues totally busy with all their fab toys and could barely view Lush Project’s Lunar Lander and Bicycle Pong for players queuing up.

Maker Faire UK
Curiosity Collective

For a taste of some of what was on show, here’s my little vidjo, it’s in no way comprehensive because I was busy on my stall most of the time and yes, there’s a lot of images of my work ;-)

A few thousand people came through the doors and I saw a queue wiggling nearly all the way to the entrance to the Centre for Life. A good percentage of the attendants were kids and I hope this event has inspired a fair few to nag their families to let them have a hack at something fun. Plus, there were many artists and hobbyists looking for tips and tricks, and I got asked a huge amount about where I buy my EL-wire and Arduino kit.

Mitch soldering at Maker Faire UK
Mitch Altman & Jimmie Rodgers, doing a bit of soldering prep

The following quote says something quite magical about Maker Faire UK; during Saturday evening dinner @Oomlout declared “It’s our two year anniversary – it’s two years since we all met” – it’s true, Maker Faire UK has brought together some brilliant people who were previously working disparately and who now stay in touch all year and help each other out with ideas, solutions and bits of kit – I’ve made some wonderful friends and co-conspiritors \(*v*)/

Mitch Altman sums it all up with “At Noisebridge Hackspace, SF, we have one rule ‘Be excellent to each other’” and I think the Makers and Hackers of the UK and beyond certainly are!

Oomlout stocks at Maker Faire UK
Oomlout stocks

PS, now that Oomlout’s crazy impresario has his new laser cutter I vote we make an Arduino catapult for the Oomlout stocks and have them in the Centre for Life courtyard – I’d pay to toss a tomato!

IMG_3502
Twinkle Starduino – my interactive musical artwork

My stand at Maker Faire UK
I <3 0X0 – Interactive & musical game