For a long while now I have been keen on doing a wearable project. The intersection of art and the body has always interested me and since wearables are an increasingly popular categories companies like Adafruit have been making amazing strides in making these projects in a non industrial, experimental way. The problem is A: I do not have any fashion sense and more importantly B: I can not make Clothes. Enter Sandra Kaas, an old friend of mine and artistic allrounder: theatre, video, performace and most importantly fashion!
I started drawing up some plans, the brief was it needed to be managable and interactive in a way that would be easily understood. My first idea was to make a compass collar. I thought a fabric collar could be produced in a short time and it could be covered in lights all around with one color pointing north always and turning as you turned.
I wanted to use the flora, an Arduino variant, as it seemed a great fit something wearable as well as these amazing rgb leds with their own drivers (which would make assembly easier), looking around the site I found this Accelerometer/Compass Sensor and I thought this could create an interesting interaction, I liked the idea of colour pattern that rotated itself north. Before going and meeting Sandra to put the things together I did some prototyping.
The module worked as expected but it was quite hard to test facing and colour effect (I was cycling through an RGB colour pattern depending on which direction I was facing with the RGB led on the flora chip itself), so I set out to make my beautiful cardboard collar prototype. I taped the chip to it.
This still was quite unwieldy although I got some useful results from it finding
out approximate facing direction and how to translate a 3d vector for magnetic north in to a 2d one. I decided to try out the stainless steel thread which I was going to sew the sensor the flora and the lights together.
After this it was enough of my rough prototypes and I went to visit Sandra Kaas.
We discussed and she made some changes to the design taking beyond my functional prototype to give it actual shape, made it into more of a necklace than a collar. Putting together a nice looking fabric necklace, she started sewing on the flora and the lights.
We made the colour pattern and tested the turning, I still had some tweaking to do. There were also some important lessons here, the thread had to very firmly be sewn on the copper copper connectors and the sewn electrical tracks needed to be very straight and firm as to not to cross connect wires when twisting and turning the fabric.
Later as I was tweaking the code to make the colours change and turn to magnetic north Sandra came up with an idea connected to the theme of her own recent performances, couldn’t we make the necklace beat on the rythm of your heart? This was an interesting suggestion, I had never actively looked but I though their might be a heart sensor I could connect without too much trouble to an Arduino like device. As it turns out there is, a company called pulse sensor does exactly that. As I looked through the documentation it looked like it would be pretty doable in a short space of time, so I bought one and integrated it.
After some modifications to the old design and attaching the earpiece which through light and reflection measure bloodflow, I got together a first physically complete but still a prototype in terms of programming the lights.
I iterated over the programming and gave the lights some animation and more livelyness, I prototyped this in the awesome processing language for much quicker iteration. I finished up for now at least as I consider modifications to this design and new wearable ideas. Many thanks to my collaborator Sandra and all the awesome creative hardware and software to make it possible.