Tag Archives: wearable

ThinkerBelle Fibre Optic EEG Amplifying Dress

ThinkerBelle EEG Amplifying Dress

I’m writing up my PhD thesis at the moment and analysing a huge amount of data from over 70 surveys and 8 hours of focus group audio transcripts. Anyway, without giving away too much about the data, as I’m saving it for my thesis, here’s a little preview of my ThinkerBelle EEG Amplifying Dress. I created this dress in response to a subsection of feedback data from my field trials and focus groups, which investigated the functionality, aesthetics and user experience of wearables and in particular wearer and observer feedback on experiences with my EEG Visualising Pendant. The motivation for creating the dress was for engagement in social situations in which the wearer might find themselves in a noisy or crowded area, where it is not possible to hear others and communicate easily – where forms of non-verbal communication may be useful. The dress broadcasts the meditation and attention data of the wearer for observers to make their own interpretations. It is up to the wearer if they want to divulge information regarding the physiological source of the data being visualised.


A short video of the dress.


A longer video of the dress shot in Tokyo, Japan.

ThinkerBelle fibre optic EEG dress

The dress was constructed with a satin fabric and fibre optic filament woven into organza. Using a NeuroSky MindWave Mobile EEG headset signals in the form of two separate streams, ‘attention’ and meditation’, are sent via Bluetooth to the dress, which amplifies and visualises the data via the fibre optic filament. Attention data is shown as red light and meditation signal data as green light. The dress is constructed so the two streams of data light overlap and interweave. The fibre optic filament is repositionable allowing the wearer to make their own lighting arrangements and dress design. The red and green light fades in an out as the levels of attention and meditation data of wearer highten or decline.

The dress’ hardware has a choice of modes, so it is possible to record and playback the data. This makes it possible for the wearer to appear to be concentrating or relaxed if wished to influence a social situation, what I call ’emotive engineering’. Also if the wearer would like to use their EEG data to create a certain mix of colour and light on the dress. It is also possible to set the playback mode and take off the EEG headset if the wearer wants to be headset free. If you’d like to read my ISWC 15 paper on the dress, it’s available from the ACM or ask me for a copy.

ThinkerBelle fibre optic EEG dress
Red = attention / green = meditation

As you can see I’ve included a few initial photos of the dress in action showing the EEG data as it is received from the headset. I have not made a successful video of the dress yet, as it’s difficult to light the dress for photos and filming. I will add a video when I’ve worked around this!

I have also been experimenting with changing the form factor of the headset for aesthetic and comfort, using various materials.

ThinkerBelle fibre optic EEG dress
Feeling relaxed = very green dress!

A bit of extra info, in case you were wondering… During my PhD research, I’ve been investigating the possibility of that wearable technology can be used with physiological data to create new forms of non-verbal communication. Since 2008 I’ve been experimenting with wearables, sensors and social situations, which led me to focus on wearables. These wearables amplify visualise and broadcast data from the body. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the field of wearable technology has blossomed and grown rapidly in recent years into a huge and mainly undefined set of devices, platforms, uses and practice. It was therefore necessary for me (a couple of years ago now) to create my own nomenclature to define the area I was creating and researching in. The first subset area being ‘responsive wearables’, which deals with wearables that respond to various physiological, environmental and other user related data and gives an output. This worked for a short while but still wasn’t definitive. I went on to drill down and make a new subset of this area to find a better definition for the emerging field I was working in, which I named ‘emotive wearables’. This area focuses on the area of wearable technology which deals with the gleaning of physiological data from the body, processes and broadcasts it in some way from the wearer. The output could be sound, movement, light, etc.

ThinkerBelle fibre optic EEG dress

My research with sensors, social situations, ambient and physiological data has led me to work with sound signal input (decibels), temperature (Celsius), pressure (Pascal) and altitude (metres) ECG (Electrocardiography), GSR (Galvanic Skin Response), EMG (Electromyography) and EEG (Electroencephalography), but my main focus for my PhD has been on the development and research of emotive wearables with EEG data.

International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) 14 Design Exhibition at Experience Music Project Museum (EMP), Seattle, USA

Barometric Skirt

For me, the highlight of the ISWC / UbiComp conference was exhibiting my Baroesque Barometric Skirt in the ISWC Design Exhibition and conference reception. This year the ISWC Design Exhibition was held at the Experience Music Project Museum (EMP) in Seattle, which is an amazing venue with a three-storey screen on which videos of our work were shown and also houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to pop culture and music. Because I took so many photos (and made a video) I’m giving the event it’s own page so that it doesn’t take over my main ISWC blog post! This year I didn’t meet all the other exhibitors during the Design Exhibition set up, so I can’t do a full report on all the exhibits, but a full list of the Functional and Aesthetic wearables can be found on the ISWC program (Tues: EMP Reception/Design Exhibition link).

EMP
Experience Music Project Museum (EMP), Seattle, USA.

ISWC 2014 is my third year of being honoured to have my responsive and emotive wearable tech work accepted by the Design Exhibition jury: in 2012 I had three wearables accepted for ISWC held at Newcastle University, UK, and last year in 2013, my EEG Visualising Pendant was accepted for exhibiting at ISWC at ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

Baroesque Barometric Skirt

This year I was extremely happy to take my Baroesque Barometric Skirt to ISWC Seattle to exhibit. The skirt visualises data in the form of four independent RGB LED strips from four sensors, three of them are environmental and are: ambient temperature, pressure and altitude, the forth is a temperature sensor that sits on the inside of the skirt and pulls in the wearer’s body temperature. My motivation for creating the skirt is that I am interested in how we can display our physiological data alongside that of the environment or ‘bigger picture’ of elements that we are surrounded by. The skirt changes visually as the wearer moves around environments and also as the body reacts to its present situation. This garment-device starts a conversation around the connections between the environmental and physiological data of the wearer. The Baroesque Barometric skirt contributes a new way of sensing and presenting environmental and physiological data together. My paper on the skirt can be found in the conference proceedings and is available here or via ACM, but if you have any problems you can get a copy from me.

Welcome
Troy welcomes attendees to the Design Exhibition at the EMP.

Many thanks to Design Exhibition Chair Troy Nachtigall for heroic work on organising the whole shebang from submissions to the show at the amazing EMP Museum, which looked stunning and also to the jury: Maggie Orth, Rosa Asteway, Zoe Romano and Meg Grant and not forgetting the ISWC volunteers.

Links to my main post on ISWC and ISWC Doctoral School Colloquium.

Baroesque Barometric Skirt video on 3 storey video wall
My Baroesque Barometric Skirt video shown on EMP’s three-floor high video wall!

A selection of images of wearables from the Design Exhibition:

ISWC Design Exhibition
Innovative Explorations in Apparel Design to Create Engineered Outfits with Lighting Technologies by Eric Beaudette et al.

ISWC Design Exhibition
TWINY emotional logging by Sara Ferraro et al.

ISWC Design Exhibition
Ballet Hero: Building a Garment for Memetic Embodiment in Dance Learning by James Hallam & Emily Keen et al – winner of the Functional Design Award.

ISWC Design Exhibition
Flowers on a Pond – solar LED Dress by Anna Perry.

ISWC Design Exhibition
Digital Lace: A Collision of Responsive Technologies by Sarah Taylor and Sara Robertson – winner of the Aesthetic Design Award.

ISWC Design Exhibition
S.A.R.A. – synesthetic augmented reality application by Margarita Benitez, Markus Vogl.

ISWC Design Exhibition
Oiko-Nomic Threads by Marinos Koutsomichalis, Afroditi Psarra and Maria Varela.

ISWC Design Exhibition
‘TellMe’: Therapeutic Clothing for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Daily Life (background) by Helen Koo.

Me & Baroesque Barometric Skirt
Me standing by my Baroesque Barometric Skirt and wearing my EEG Visualising Pendant.

EEG Data Visualising Pendant – wearable technology for use in social situations

Moi & EEG Visualising Pendant worn with 3D printed frame

EEG Visualising Pendant shown with 3D printed frames

Introduction
I developed my EEG visualising pendant for use in social situations. The pendant uses EEG (Electroencephalography) signals, which are gleaned from a NeuroSky MindWave Mobile headset. The MindWave is a standalone headset device that detects electrical signals from the brain, which are accessed via a single electrode on a protruding arm from the headband. The electrode makes contact via the wearer’s forehead at the pre-frontal cortex area, where higher thinking states are dominant. The pendant displays attention / concentration data as red LEDs (light emitting diodes) beside meditation / relaxation data in green LEDs on an LED matrix. The pendant has live, record and playback functions, which give the user the choice of displaying live EEG visualisations or recording and playing up to four minutes of previous brainwave data visualisations on a loop if they’re feeling mischievous or want to appear to be concentrating / paying attention or relaxed, what I call ’emotive engineering’, or just want to use the pendant as an aesthetic piece of jewellery without the EEG headset.

EEG Visualising Pendant - now with live, record & playback modes!

Image shows the pendant in action, plus selection options for pendant modes: live, record or playback.

I created this video to show the EEG Pendant working with the MindWave Mobile headset, I’ve added some crowd atmos to simulate being in a networking situation. You can see on the pendant my attention (red) and medidation (green) levels changing.

My motivation for developing this piece of wearable technology is that in certain spaces and situations we feel more awkward and vulnerable than in others. These situations include conferences and networking events, which put us in social situations where we might be alone or do not know other people very well and also in social areas such as bars and parties. All are situations where people often assume it’s okay to come into someone’s space and talk to them, which depending on how someone is feeling might make them uncomfortable. As well as asking personal questions, some conversations can go on for too long and it’s not usually socially acceptable to interrupt a person speaking mid-flow, then walk away – so how can we best let people know when we feel uncomfortable? As not everyone is adept at recognising or interpreting correctly the emotional signals of the person they are currently interacting with via body language alone, I developed the EEG visualising pendant as a means to go some way to bridge that gap by creating a piece of wearable technology that visualises the wearer’s concentration / meditation levels to signal when the wearer is attentive and interested or drifting away from the conversation. The pendant can also display when the wearer is more relaxed or unfocused (possibly when tired too) – in this state the LEDs display more green LEDs.

I am also interested in how we can manipulate social situations and how others see us by controlling our physiological data, either by using the record and playback functions, or by practicing how to control one’s own physiological data, in the case of EEG by, for example, reading, counting backwards, doing times-tables (attention) or defocusing / zoning out (meditation).

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

Here I am showing my EEG Visualising Pendant at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) in Zurich, September 2013.


Development of hardware and software of the EEG Pendant

The LED (Light Emitting Diode) matrix form factor I chose for the pendant makes it small and versatile. Its 3 x 3 centimetre size in allows it to be transferable to various outfits and worn in different ways, for example, as a pendant, brooch or badge clipped to a jacket, shirt or tie. The EEG data is visualised in three distinct styles, each being a proportional representation of the signal in real time.

My first action on purchasing an MindWave Mobile back in autumn 2012, was to ascertain how one could use the MindWave Mobile outside its intentional usage, which is to communicate with iOS and Android devices. I’d already found some information on the developer area of the NeuroSky website suggesting there were various other devices and applications that could work with the MindWave Mobile, such as Arduino microcontrollers, but at the time it didn’t have enought information, so I hunted around online for clues and began to piece together an idea of how to go about communicating with the MindWave.

The pendant’s first circuit prototype consisted of an Arduino Uno microcontroller connected via breadboard to a Bluetooth dongle and an LED bar-graph. At this stage the prototype was only visualising one aspect of the EEG data at a time, i.e. attention or meditation data.

Behold - my brainwaves visualised on an LED bar graph

I decided that for using the pendant both the attention and meditation data really needed to be shown next to each other, so I swapped the LED bar-graph for a square, single colour LED matrix. This gave a better display of how the EEG levels compared, but I felt these levels needed to be shown to be distinctive from each other, so the green LED matrix was exchanged for a bi-colour LED matrix and C code updated to display the attention data levels as red rectangles and meditation levels as green rectangles. The rectangles were split over two halves of the square matrix and enlarged and contracted in accordance with the data from the MindWave Mobile headset.

EEG visualisations matrix on a Shrimp circuit with Mindwave Mobile

Development of the pendant’s data visualisation could have concluded at this point, but it is important to consider the design and aesthetic nature of a piece of wearable technology, from both the wearer’s and of the viewer’s point of view. Also, it is important to consider how to make most of the data in terms of creating an innovative and unique piece of wearable technology. Exploring how the EEG data can be creatively portrayed is a crucial part of the software and hardware evolution of the pendant. So bearing this in mind, I updated the code to add circular and diagonal data visualisations of red / attention and green / meditation. This was originally reflected as lines on the LED matrix, but later as filled shapes with overlaps shown as yellow, which in my opinion, is overall more pleasing to the eye of the viewer.

EEG Visualising Pendant data shape cycles

For transferring the prototype to stripboard, my first attempt used an ATtiny85 microcontroller, which looked like a good fit for the circuit and as the name suggests it’s very small high-performance, low-power Atmel 8-bit microcontroller. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to use the ATtiny85 for this project as the LED matrix graphics libraries and the code for the cycle of three data visualising styles meant that it added up to too much code for the 8k Flash memory of the ATtiny85. Instead, I used a low cost Shrimp microcontroller kit that was designed specifically for breadboard / stripboard prototyping and comes as a bag of loose components which makes it fairly flexible in terms of putting together. The Shrimp is based on the Arduino Uno and includes the same Atmel 328-PU microcontroller chip at its heart, so there was not a problem uploading the code and libraries from the breadboard and Arduino Uno circuit. The next step was to test the circuit with appropriate batteries to ensure it could be powered as a stand-alone piece of wearable technology, three AAA batteries sufficed to run the circuit and all its components. I considered using two coin cell batteries in parallel, but decided I preferred a rechargeable AAA option.

Mood lighting on my EEG Visualising Pendant at Design Exhibition teardown
The EEG Visualising Pendant on show at the Design Exhibition of the International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) 2013, Zurich.

Having tested the circuit, the schematic was then drawn out out to ensure the circuit and its components could be neatly fitted onto stripboard. An appropriate size of stripboard was cut, tracks that needed to be cut to prevent short circuits were dug out and the components laid out for the circuit and then soldered. This is quite a time consuming business, but I enjoy building circuits.

The pendant was then ready to be attached to a necklace via small metal hoop links, spaced well enough away from any circuitry not to cause any short circuits. The LED matrix / pendant was attached to the main circuit board via detachable male / female jumper wires so for ease of putting on and also so it could be detached from the necklace and worn as a brooch. During usage, the stripboard circuit can be housed in a small bespoke box to protect it and keep it insulated, so it can then be tucked into a pocket.

Challenges
The key technical challenge laid around communications with the headset, as it is a proprietary device, designed primarily to use with downloaded apps and games. The MindWave Mobile headset communicates with Bluetooth enabled devices that have the MindWave Mobile software installed but does not come with a Bluetooth dongle to communicate with other hardware for development purposes, as does with the NeuroSky research package. So once I was able to get the Bluetooth dongle to pair with the MindWave Mobile, my next task was to have code that then checks for packet strength and quality.

In terms of aesthetic design, the LED matrix was chosen because of its small pendant-like size and shape. It is also very light, so will not weigh heavily on the neck or on the body if worn as a pendant or a brooch. Aesthetics for wearable technology need to be carefully considered if we expect people to wear these devices, so we should ensure that we design them to look elegant and enjoyable to wear. In the past wearable technology has been clunky, heavy and often not very pleasing to the eye or designed with the wearer’s individual needs in mind. Plus we should take into consideration the different groups of people who might wear our devices and the individual preferences of each group. Demographics such as age, gender and lifestyle should be accounted for and user testing on designs carried out.

The NeuroSky MindWave Mobile is a useful low-cost EEG headset, however only having the one electrode on the product can make finding a signal a little cumbersome, though in return we get a comparatively discreet headset compared to others and do not need to use a gel to establish conductivity from the head to the electrode.

Ribbonacci frame for EEG Visualising Pendant

Using a Shrimp kit for the microcontroller circuit made for a smaller and less bulky circuit, plus brought the price of the project down. Although this means a little extra time needed to be spent putting the circuits together, soldering and testing to look for short circuits and any mistakes in the layout of components. As mentioned in the project development, the ATtiny85 was an ambitious approach to making the circuit smaller and easier to wear, but was not appropriate due to not enough memory being available for the code and libraries to drive the circuit and LED matrix.

Future Work
The EEG visualising pendant will progress as a project by testing and developing new ways of visualising EEG data that appeal to the user. The presentation of the pendant will be developed in terms of user profiles, for example, how could the matrix be housed and embellished to suit different demographics of users, plus looking at styles for male and female users.

In terms of the hardware, there are possible improvements that can be made to the configuration of the circuit to make the circuit board smaller and more compact. Smaller and lighter batteries would considerably lessen the weight and the bulkiness of the circuit board. As EEG technology progresses it may not be long before the headset form factor may be done away with altogether as smaller and less obvious ways of wearing the EEG electrode and transmitting the data are developed and favoured.

Link to my paper from the 17th International Symposium on Wearable Computers Design Exhibition (ISWC), 2013, Adjunct Proceedings, EEG Visualising Pendant for use in Social Situations.

Wearing the SolarStar frame for EEG Visualising Pendant

Above polymer clay textured frame, below 3D printed frames in sparkly alumide (printed by Shapeways)

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

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!