Category Archives: making

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You make my heart flutter – wearable sensing device & Heart Spark hack

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on the first stage of a project that involves hacking Eric Boyd’s excellent Heart Spark PCB pendant and combining it with a sensor module I’ve made from scratch.

Heart Spark: I uploaded a sketch (code) via fangled FTDI + some header pins

The Heart Spark pulses 6 LEDs to my heartbeat via a signal from my Polar gym chest band transmitter (that usually transmits / displays my heart rate on my Polar wrist watch). The Heart Spark is open source and Eric has kindly made the schematics, code, plus lots of other information available on the Sensebridge.net website pages for the Heart Spark. http://sensebridge.net/projects/heart-spark/

I’m very interested in how sensing technology can display vital signs and how this can be monitored and combined with other tech to give us an insight into our moods, and how our body is reacting to certain situations.

'You make my <3 flutter'

For this proof of concept, here’s the back story / premise I used when considering what I wanted to build and present at Rewired State’s recent (H)activate hack weekend at the Guardian:

“Geeks are very particular about their personal space, so what could be better than a mobile, wearable device that notes their heart rate when someone comes close. Whether you’re cool, calm and collected or get palpitations when a certain someone enters your space, it’s interesting to note how a particular person affects your physicality, whether that be geek love or geek annoyance. It’s not quite your heart on your sleeve, but round your neck!”

For this, I’ve created a heart-shaped proximity detector module to link to the Heart Spark – I’ve named this ‘Flutter’.

To create the Flutter module, firstly I experimented with various combinations of components: an IR proximity sensor, resistor, potentiometer, LED and transistor on a breadboard. The 3.3V coin cell battery that powers the Heart Spark could not give enough output, even when combining with a step up component which boosted the voltage up to 5V to power both the Heart Spark and the proximity sensor.

Circuit diagram for 'You make my <3 flutter'

So I began a period of trial and error with various combinations of batteries, resistors, transistors and twiddling the potentiometer. In the end I gave up fiddling and got my oscilloscope out to find out what was happening. I got some very curious signals from the various battery combinations and step up module I was using, but in the end the solution was to get more juice to the IR proximity sensor. This meant powering it separately and that more batteries were needed. So I settled on a 3 x AA battery pack, for which I’ve made a fabric heart shaped pouch dangling on a twisted twill rope, as it needs to be housed quite close and precisely to the sensor via battery pack connectors.

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

I have to say, I really feel that powering wearable technology is one of the more irksome things about trying to get this technology into wearables and I’m going to blog about this soon. On that note, the reason I added a 10k Ohm potentiometer to the heart-shaped IR sensor was so that small tweaks to the voltage can be made to the sensor.

Creating a heart-shaped proximity dectector module

To house all the components and with the help of a hacksaw, I made a heart-shaped substrate out of stripboard and coloured it black with a marker pen.

Hacking the Heart Spark – I have hacked Eric’s original code so that the top 3 LEDs on the Heart Spark light up when the IR proximity sensor detects someone in my space. I have some more interesting ideas for the code to work with the Heart Spark in the future, but in the first instance my goal was to get the Heart Spark to acknowledge the IR sensor and light up from its signal.

Hacking the Heart Spark

To upload code from my laptop to the Heart Spark, I fangled an FTDI board (which I usually use with LilyPad Arduinos) with some header pins – so I could connect it to the headers on the Heart Spark. I also soldered two pin headers to ground and positive / signal pins on the Heart Spark, which allows wire connection between the Heart Spark and the Flutter module.

Hactivate: battery pouch made

Hactivate: You make my <3 flutter

Stage 2 and next steps…

For the next iteration, I’d like to add a tiny camera to this work, set to log periodic photos of who or what situation is in front of the wearer. Plus find a way of grabbing the photo, heartbeat and proximity sensor data from the devices and send to my laptop via a sewable a LilyPad Arduino x-Bee transmitter. Sewable, because I’d like it to become part of the heart-shaped battery pack pouch.

I want to graph the data from the two sensors to plot how many times during the day I get fluctuations in my heart rate when someone enters my space and would place the photos from the camera at appropriate points alongside, to see who had made my heart flutter. I’d use this information to work out my physiological state and reactions to certain situations, and people throughout the course of a day.

Other additions I’ve thought about are to include a temperature sensor, to record if someone becomes hot or flushed in certain situations or people and an accelerometer to assess body language by the user’s posture.

Mass participant uses? I’d love to hold a speed-dating event where all the participants wore the “You make my <3 flutter” device to attempt to determine people’s reaction to each other based on their physical data signals.

'You make my <3 flutter'

Thank yous to: Ciaran Anscomb and Eric Boyd for help and advice \o/

Thinking Digital 2011, Sage Gateshead: Day 1

Thinking Digital 2011 was the forth annual melding of minds shaped into a conference that brings together what’s new in innovative ideas, technology and thoughts on life in the digital age. It’s run by the awesome Herb Kim and his Codeworks team and is held at the Sage, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.

TDC: Sage view

The conference is popular with thinkers, scientists, makers, entrepreneurs and academics, because it has a slightly different slant to it than your usual tech conference, but through the choice of speakers and topics, it pulls the audience into the conversation, the subjects are not arbitrary, but are relevant to many.

On reflection, last year’s conference seemed to surround the theme of ‘data’: your data, my data, our data – data as a commodity. Richard Titus, who spoke at last year’s conference declared ‘Data is the new oil’ which struck a chord with many of the attendees. This year’s Thinking Digital, for me, was all about sensing things whether that be health, resonating with others, brainwaves, robots or campaigns.

There’s rather a lot to talk about and even cutting my notes down loads, I’ve far too much to say – anyways, I’m splitting it into two posts: day one and day two…

I’m going to start with Walter de Brouwer, as I create wearable sensing technology that responds to input, so his talk really resonated with me.

TDC: Walter de Brouwer on medical treatment futures

Walter De Brouwer is the CEO of OLPC Europe; the European Branch of the One Laptop per Child Initiative, discussed the issues surrounding the future of healthcare and how as patients and relatives we can take charge of our own health. He spoke passionately about his personal catalyst for this – a traumatic experience involving his child enduring a stay in intensive care. How the experience of watching machines and nurses logging numerical data over time starts to familiarize the watching relatives with which measurements signify good news and which do not. Walter asked, ‘but why do we only take number measurements when we are dying?’ Indeed, we should be steadily ‘life caching’ medical data ourselves because the medical records our GPs keep are just a punctuated data stream- i.e. they’re very sketchy because they’re not regularly updated and compared, plus are also passed through different doctors over time. He stated ‘ the best way to create the future is to prevent it ‘ – meaning look after yourself now and invest in your personal data to interpret the signs of illness before they happen. Which I feel is pretty sound advice actually, seeing as most major illness’ are only usually picked up by doctors when they are in an advanced stage and hard to treat.

Having access to so much information on the web the patient is becoming a consumer and the do it yourself healthcare movement is getting bigger. We now have access to so many data capturing devices we can keep log of our own health readings, plus if would be totally logical to share and compare this data with our friends to find out for ourselves why some people are happier, healthier and have more energy than others – comparing lifestyles, what we eat, how long we sleep, etc. There is already a worldwide movement leading the way in this self-logging lifestyle, that’s The Quantified Self movement, whose mantra is ‘self knowledge through numbers’ and they log everything they can – for example: blood pressure, weight, exercise, cholesterol, heart rate, arousal and sleep patterns.

TDC:

Walter fully believes that the globalization of private medicine is unstoppable now and we can shop for the best practitioners who have the least patients, most time and do all your health running around for you – such as booking scans and regular health checks. This is all very nice, but relies on you having the income to fund this lifestyle, as it gets very expensive! This way of running healthcare probably works only for the top earners and of course probably isn’t inclusive to people on benefits or those on low incomes.

Anyways, if you have the income there is a plethora of choices open to ‘Cybercondriacs’ and full body scans are very popular, of course the price depends on where you go to get it done but ranges between 100-700 dollars, India being the cheapest place to go right now. But remember, as mentioned above you can keep your own records and use sensing apps to log them, though the challenge will be how do we and doctors analyse and hang on to all this exponentially generated data? Walter suggests perhaps not in The Cloud: ‘ The Cloud is like a public toilet for your records, you don’t know who’s been there before you!”

So in conclusion, Walter feels your health will become a number – the data is free to gather, but the interpretation by your doctor is not! As doctors begin to prescribe apps rather than meds for health they will become overloaded with data and we’ll need systems to cope with it all. Walter suggested that we may end up with systems similar to an already existing car maintenance system in the US called OnStar – which is a call centre diagnostic type of affair. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own health and should look at our lifestyles and those of our friends to compare what is good for us while we wait for someone to invent a 21st Century version of the Star Trek Tricorder – a complete diagnostic device!

Erin McKean has been a dictionary evangelist for 18 years and is now a founder of Wordnik, an online dictionary that hopes to redefine how we view and use dictionaries. Wordnik has the tag line / definition as ‘Wordnik is a place for all the words, and everything known about them’. It’s a place to find and log words and not just one definition, there are many ways to define and tag words, including sentences, images and statistics. Looking at the Community page http://www.wordnik.com/community, I find tons of words defined by lists such as new words, recent comments, recently favourited, random, trending and previous words of the day.

TDC: Erin McKean on online dictionary Wordnik

During her presentation she offered her thoughts on defining dictionaries and word usage, Erin introduced us to the term ‘skeumorph’, which is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “an object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artifact in another material” – to illustrate Erin showed us plastic garden chairs that were copies of retro wooden chairs which included a wood grain pattern on the plastic! Erin took us through the pros and cons of using dictionaries in both paper and digital form, such as the problem of new words not showing up quick enough and in the realm of learning she informed us that humans learn words by using them in a sentence, rather than by looking them up. I’ll be interested to hear what people do with the Wordnik API. PS, I was very much admiring Erin’s lovely dresses, so was very happy to find her blog A Dress A Day :-)

Conrad Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram Research discussed the notion of ‘computation for everyone’ – where computation meets knowledge and is democratised so that everyone can use it. He’d like to see governments and organisations make their data more accessible and active online rather than just in papers.

TDC:

He’s keen to do this by creating new ways that we can visualise data and information and has come up with a computable documentation format (CDF), which uses techniques to show live data and make it more interesting to the viewer. You can play with examples of this on the Wolfram Demonstrations Project.

TDC: Conrad Wolfram on live data visualisation

Conrad is also passionate about maths and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) tuition in education and is leading a computer-based maths education summit in London later this year at the Royal Institution – wish I could get a ticket!

Nancy Duates of Duarte Design
showed us via some examples of her studies into cinema, how storytelling is the best way to communicate an idea in a presentation or speech. Her slides showed examples of how using a story framework (visualized as a square wave) showed how verbally alternating between an obstacle and then resolution (or negative then positive) sound bite resonates with the audience and builds up empathy – equating to persuasion = transformation with the listener.

TDC: Nancy Duarte on storytelling

She also talked about injecting passion into stories “when you say ‘I’ve an idea’ – you’re saying you want to change the world!” and noting how we physically react to others when we hear a story. Her three-point framework included the following stages:

1. Likeable hero
2. Encounters roadblocks
3. Emerges transformed

TDC: Nancy Duarte on storytelling

During Nancy’s two-year study of storytelling she discovered various frameworks including Freytag’s dramatic 5 point story structure which emerges as: exposition / rising action / climax / falling action / denouncement and how ‘tacking’ (sailing metaphor) your story backwards and forwards holds the attention of your audience. She analysed two powerful presentations to show how her square wave theory works: one by Steve Jobs, launching iPhone and the other Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech – each showed the square wave alternating between a downside/problem and a glowing resolution (what is, what could be). I found her talk fascinating and will definitely look back on it and consider her techniques when I next have a presentation to write.

Ewan McIntosh, CEO, NoTosh Ltd, told the story of the SNP historic election win this year which he co-directed, and they did it via a system that was designed to stop this happening! So how did the SNP win it? When the campaign started the SNP was 15 points behind Labour, but when it ended the SNP was 18 points ahead. They did it by using a ruthlessly planned strategy, much of it using digital media.
He told us “we don’t do enough listening in digital media” and went on to give us some of his tips on engaging voters of all ages, including:

1. Have a strategy – with detail, pace, leadership and be agile – “You don’t need to have a ‘plan’, or a ‘to do list’ but a strategy”

2. Share the same message – be consistent and have a meeting every morning and agree what’s going to be said that day – share the message and make it understandable by people

3. Learn to listen – find out what they like, don’t like and what motivates them -stay relentlessly positive online

TDC: Ewan McIntosh on SNP campaign

“So did digital win votes? Yes it did!” Ewan went on to explain that the ultimate reason for campaigning online was to get people doing stuff offline, which worked and it’s changed the way governments listen to people and that digital is absolutely key to stalking ambition.

Ewan summed up with ‘the SNP campaign has changed not only Scotland’s place in world, but also how government engages with people and how digital can be used as a force for change”. As someone who has done a lot of high-profile project management over the years for the BBC, I was really interested in how Ewan’s strategy panned out across the campaign.

Heather Knight of Marilyn Monrobot creates live robot theatre performances and is a researcher at Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute. Heather started by letting Data her Nao robot introduce her and do an amusing comedy performance, which included a little dance at the end.

TDC: Data

I couldn’t help but look up the Nao robot and discovered it is programmable in C++, C, Python, Urbi, .Net languages. Interestingly, it’s runs on Linux OS, but is cross platform compatible, and I read Aldebaran Robotics are going to open source some of Nao’s code in 2011 and for those who want their own a public version is aimed to be released in 2012. I noted in the Q & A that Heather was asked how much a Nao robot would cost, to which she replied about 12,000 Euros.

Heather’s other work has included a touch sensitive ‘Sensate Bear’ for use in hospitals to help understand non-verbal communication via touch.
She is interested in how socially accepted robots can be integrated into society and has done work with her performing robot in public areas to analyse how the public reacts to their performance and in turn how the robot’s personality can be tweaked to work with humans – the goal being to help machines understand human traits such as charisma and humour.

TDC: Heather Knight & Data

Heather also has a portfolio of digital art and is organising The Robot Film Festival in New York in July 2011.

It was a nice touch for Heather to finish on a story about her work on the epic Ok Go ‘This Too Shall Pass’ video, which the audience really enjoyed + a few added factoid morsels about the making of too. I enjoyed hearing from a female engineer very much and would like to hear more about Heather’s research with human / robot reactions, and also her digital artworks.

So that’s it, my epic and rambling round-up of some of Thinking Digital’s day one presentations and talks. I’m going to have a rest now before I launch into day two!

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!

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

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

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

Spaghetti croc clip testing works!

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

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

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

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

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

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

Creating my hack: early conductive thread sewing

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

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

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

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

Me and my hack - yay it works!

Pachube International Internet of Things Hackathon, London

Pachube hackathon

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

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

Paul Tanner at Pachube hackathon

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

Ken Boak - Nanode

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

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

Spaghetti croc clip testing works!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

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

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

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

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

Me and my hack - yay it works!

Presentations

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

Presentations: Sarah's Marvin the paranoid laptop bot

Hack winners: Dan, Tim & Ben

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

Presentations: Umbreller

Presentations: Lucky Cat hack

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!