Tag Archives: technology

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

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

QCon London

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroesque – Barometric Skirt

Barometric skirt - coming together

I wanted to bridge the gap between what for me had been an enclosed capsule of capturing / visualizing my own physiological data and entwining it with data from the environment around me. The barometric skirt visualises data from four sensors, three of them are environmental: temperature, pressure and altitude, the forth is a temperature sensor that sits on the inside of the skirt and pulls in my body temperature. I’m interested in how I can display my physical data alongside that of the ‘bigger picture’ of elements that I am surrounded by.

Getting Baroesque Barometric Skirt ready for Smart Textiles Salon

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

Barometric skirt - coming together

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

Fabric painting

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

Barometric skirt - coming together

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

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

Testing my Baroesque Barometric Skirt for Smart Textles Salon

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

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

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

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

Barometric skirt - coming together

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

Presenting my Baroesque Barometric Skirt

Smart Textiles Salon

Getting Baroesque Barometric Skirt ready for Smart Textiles Salon

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

Ada Lovelace Day, 2011: Sarah Angliss, Intrepid Engineer

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

Sarah & her speaking teapot

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

Clara!

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

Uncanny Valley: Edgar Allen Crow

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

Uncanny Valley: Hugo

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

Spacedog being spookeh at BMMF party

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

Kinetica Art Fair 2010, P3, London

Kinetica Art Fair comes to London once a year for four days and is one of the most eagerly awaited shows for me and a lot of my friends as it combines two things I am most passionate about – art and technology. I started getting excited weeks ago and was not disappointed it was a fantastic feast for the art lover and/or geek. I went twice and I still wanted to go again!

Many of the artworks on show were interactive and a lot of fun, for example P.E.A.L by Lewis Sykes and Nick Rothwell was a fabulous installation that allowed the audience to ‘ring’ the bells of 5 leads churches in a round like a bell tower or ‘campanile’!

Another favourite interactive work was The Hydro-Acoustic Big Bang Filter by Interactive Agents which allows the user to experience and play with the sound of the big bang via sonic transducers that ‘excite the columns with the big bang audio signal’.

Some of the work was more subtle and delicately waited to be investigated such as Kathy Taylor’s Tease ll teapot and Andrew Back’s beautiful nixie tubes that are part of ‘No Numbers’ – which slowly reveals the numbers that make up John Foxx’s song ‘Mr No’.

Some works were eerie, especially Sarah Angliss’ ‘Ealing Feeder’ that combines bells, a doll and a very weird 30s poem! I also loved the spooky ethereal performance of The Robot Theremin Ensemble by Ray Lee, that was a feat of engineering in itself, let alone the sounds it emitted.

Apart from the artworks there were talks, performances and shows, the Musion Academy show on the opening night was so crowded I couldn’t get anywhere near!

All in all, there were too many fantastic installations and works to mention here now, so I recommend that you look at the http://www.kinetica-artfair.com/ website for more details.