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Making at Windward: Joan and Rich's Blog

Creating a Dress With A Mind of Its Own

You have clothes. You have a laptop and a smartphone. Now, what about a dress with its own ideas about how it should be worn, depending on how you wear it and what the people around you are doing?  Rich and Joan are working with Lyn Hoge of the Performing Arts Department to bring “wearable tech” to Windward.

What is “wearable tech”? There are a lot of different definitions. Some devices, like Google Glass, are really just a computer that people happen to wear. Others, like a Fitbit, are designed to take a specific measurement and tell you about it, like how many steps you took. But suppose you could create a hat that lit up when you turned your head fast, or a pants leg that pulled up if it detected the hem was getting wet?  Or a skirt that has lights that twinkle when you move?

But how does all this work? There are now “sewable” microprocessors, like the Adafruit Flora, which can be programmed like an Arduino (see our last blog entry about those) to control lights and motors.  The Flora can detect the conditions around it by talking to sensors, many of which now also come in “sewable” versions.  The picture shows a Flora controlling a NeoPixel LED, which is three tiny LEDs and control electronics. It can be programmed to create any color light (including white light) from one tiny package.  In this case it is getting power from a USB cable, but ultimately it can be powered with batteries.

The Flora and NeoPixel are talking to each other through conductive thread. You can also get cables that look like a ribbon.

There are now tiny sensors (accelerometers with a compass) that can detect what direction you are going in or whether you have moved suddenly. The clothing you create can react to that by moving something or lighting up. If you combine that with 3D printing, you can make just about anything you can imagine!  We have a pretty cool idea that we are helping Lyn try out. It’s a secret for now, but let’s just say you should keep an eye on any blue evening gowns you see on campus….

Got a project you would like to try out with 3D printing, robots, sensors or other technology? Joan and Rich are both at Windward on Wednesdays and Joan is here one other day a week. Drop by room 425 to see what’s possible. 

 -Joan Horvath is a recovering rocket scientist, and Rich “Whosawhatsis” Cameron is a 3D printing and electronics hacker. Together they have founded Nonscriptum LLC, a consultancy to help educators and scientists use low-cost prototyping technologies. They are also writing books on the subject: next up is “The New Shop Class: Getting Started with 3D Printing, Arduino, and Wearable Tech,” coming from Apress in May.

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