Trying wearables on for size

TV-B-Gone pin

The first assignments for Zachary Eveland’s Wearables Studio class were as follows:

Assignment: Make a wearable
Come to class next week with a working wearable device or garment. This assignment is just a sketch to get the juices flowing – whatever you make should function, but rough edges are fine.

There are no restrictions on the type of wearable, but it should relate to your semester-long project. Use this as an opportunity to experiment with new materials or techniques. If you haven’t built a soft circuit before, this might be a good time to do so.

Assignment: List your project concept(s)
During next week’s class, we will discuss and finalize everyone’s concept for semester-long projects. If you have more than one project in mind, write them all down.

Immediately after the first class, I went to the NYU computer store and picked up a new LilyPad, in case my project would require one—I definitely don’t want to have to unstitch that fucking glove until I’m sure we’re done with it. Then, all week, I was pondering what I could make. An apron with timers on it? A doodad in my handbag that would turn my living room light on and off? I don’t know; I suck at ideas.

I also suck at not procrastinating, so on the morning of class I ended up doing the quickest thing I could think of: taking apart my brand-new TV-B-Gone (which I bought readymade, not as a kit, because I know I can’t solder that kind of fiddly thing to save my life), mounting it on the back of a felt flower (formerly a barrette that came in a Sampler box), and hooking the whole thing onto a big safety pin so I could attach it to my sweater.

TV-B-Gone pin - back

Such craftsmanship!

The point of this object is that the off-the-shelf TV-B-Gone comes in a rather menacing-looking black plastic case, and holding such a thing up to point it at a TV would be conspicuous and would probably get you accused of being a terrorist. The happy felty flower pin, on the other hand, is extremely stealthy: because the center LED emits IR, it doesn’t visibly light up when the button (located immediately under the LED, and clickable through the felt) is pressed. There’s a red indicator light that blinks when the IR beam is active, but it’s hidden behind the flower petals and so only visible to the wearer (except, maybe, in a dark room—but everyone will be looking at the TV, of course, not at your goofy brooch). It’s kind of inspired by the TV-B-Gone hoodie by Becky Stern, but my problem with that idea is that you have to be wearing your hoodie all the time. I like hoodies plenty, but I would never wear the same one every day, which means I probably wouldn’t have it when I needed it. A pin, on the other hand, could be attached to a hat, coat, or handbag that’s worn every day.

For the second assignment, I scribbled down notes about two ideas:

Party Dress

polka dots or other pattern elements have RGB LEDs on them, so that

  • dress can change color to
    • match rest of outfit
    • indicate motion–e.g., red if the wearer becomes horizontal
  • lights pulse when
    • your cell phone is ringing
    • someone stands close to you
    • nobody stands close to you

Memo jacket / scarf / pin

  • records snippets of audio, e.g., notes to self
  • transmits recordings wirelessly to computer, where assistant can transcribe or otherwise file them
  • last recording can be played back
  • camera can take a snapshot whenever she puts something away that she’s afraid she might lose
  • emits a sound when the calendar on computer says has an appointment coming up
  • has a display that can show messages/reminders
  • can transmit an emergency call to her computer

The Party Dress idea came from a conversation I had with the magnificent Erin McKean of, among other things, A Dress a Day. The Memo Jacket idea is for my mom, who’s convinced that she has Alzheimer’s Disease. I don’t know how to implement either of these ideas, but the Party Dress is much closer to my field of nonexpertise, since I’ve already worked with IR sensors and LEDs. How one connects that many LEDs, I have only the vaguest idea; and how one gets one’s cell phone to talk to them? Well, surely somebody else can figure this out for me.

In class, then, we did an brilliant thing: Zachary had us each explain our project ideas to another person (or, well, it was supposed to be two other people, but I was paired up with Lara, who’s all about wearables, and we ended up just talking with each other), and then that person explained the project to the class. So we got to hash out our ideas a bit in a low-stress interaction, and then we got to hear what parts of our description were most memorable and comprehensible.

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