Cuddle up to your console! These wearable soft-circuit buttons are kicking off a revolution in the way we interface with our machines.
Here is a four minute video with more information about the project.
(woohoo! we met our funding minimum! The project is still open though, please consider funding anyway - every little bit helps to lower stress levels and raise the standards!)
We are building wearable tools for interacting with technology that are simple, durable, and open-source. This fundraiser is for a sewn circuit kit that allows users to trigger events wirelessly on their computer (or mixer) using USB (or MIDI) and a sewn set of fabric “buttons” that can be mounted anywhere on their garments.
These funds will be used to test various materials and components for best function, refine the prototypes into a field-usable device, produce a kit version, and open-source the information required to build the device.
What exactly does the device do?
The device has four buttons that are integrated into your garments (removable for washing) and use wireless radio technology to communicate with your computer or MIDI device. You can tell them what to do, so whatever function you think is most important is the one you can call on remotely.
What is it for?
The device can be customized to trigger events on a computer using USB or on an audio mixer or other board using MIDI. This has potential use in an incredibly wide range of applications, for example:
-an audio artist triggering events in their music, dropping loops and beats without being trapped next to a device or computer
-a dancer triggering music changes, lighting events or projector cues in a movement piece
-a presenter controlling their powerpoint slides
-a home user advancing songs or videos in a queue
Why change our interface?
On a daily basis, we cram our monkey bodies into a rigid and rectangular computer world. Our technology objects are external, alien, rather than something that dovetails with the organic aspects of our bodies. Wearing the device creates an intimate relationship that literally changes the way the interface is processed in the brain. Devices mounted on the body can be operated instinctively, using the cerebellum's 'muscle memory'. This frees up the frontal lobe's higher-level thinking for whatever is being worked on rather than the tool used to work on it.
Garments are a ubiquitous, populist technology that is has been through countless engineering cycles to best fit, conform, and enhance our ranges of motion. Our bodies are self-ergonomic; by wrapping our native surfaces with interface, we are able to automatically reach a comfortable starting place for our interactions with the machine. An interface device that travels with the user can be customized for maximum ergonomic fit, and can accommodate more body positions (Standing! Walking! Upside down!). Multiple users could easily interact with the same screen. Recent advances in conductive fabrics and inks have become available for purchase in small quantities, allowing for affordable experimentation and small-scale production.
What happens if it gets funded?
This funding will cover experimentation with a range of materials and designs for the components of the project, the time needed to prototype and test them all, the time needed to digitize and open source the finalized plans, getting together code for various use scenarios, as well as planning and putting together a run of the kits.
More information can be found about Pants Interface at http://mediumreality.com/pantsinterface.html.
No. Some smart fabrics are washable, but making the whole device washable would increase its price significantly. We have instead focused on making it removable, which has the added benefit of making it usable across many pairs of pants.
We honestly aren't sure yet. A lot of the research we do with this grant will be based on optimizing for affordability, but until we know the results of that research it's hard to say where we will end up. The support level to get a kit is very high to make sure that we have extra money left over from producing the kits to fund all this research we keep talking about.
When you say “kit”, what does that mean will come with it? What will need to be done for it to work?
What an excellent question! Anyone who has done a microcontroller or radio project probably has a healthy suspicion of the phrase “works out of the box”. Part of the reason we are making a kit and not a product is because we expect everyone who uses the device to want it for something different. The kit format allows for a lot of flexibility in how the final product is rendered and used. There will certainly be a wider range of possible applications than we can initially imagine or plan for. Also, part of the thrust of this Kickstarter project is research that will affect what, exactly, we end up with. We have some pretty specific ideas, though. Here is a breakdown of what we hope to ship:
- laser-cut fabric parts for the soft button components. These may include conductive fabric that has to be sewn down, or ironed on. We want to test some conductive inks and if we go this route, some of the traces and components will come pre-silkscreened. There will definitely be some sewing required for the assembly of this kit. It will probably call for a combination of machine-sewing and hand-sewing, although if you do not have access to a machine it will probably be possible to do it all by hand. The kit will include directions and be aimed at a basic skill level, but if you have never sewn anything before we recommend a warm-up project! The directions for this kit will be part of the open documentation for this project, and will include schematics that anyone can download and use.
- circuitboards and parts for microprocessors and radios. In the current prototype, these are Jeenode boards running Atmel chips and Hope RF radios. These boards come in kit form; their assembly is mostly through-hole soldering, and is pretty straightforward. We may offer an option to have these assembled by us – we are trying to find the best balance of keeping the kit affordable and keeping the project from requiring too many tools or too much equipment. We may even change what components we are using based on our research.
- components for either USB serial connection or 5-pin MIDI device connection. Both of these will be options when ordering and configuring your kit. You will probably need to solder and assemble the connector.
- software for the microcontroller & radios. This software will be open-source. Our goal is for the user to need no programming knowledge to set up and use this device in its most basic form. We intend to provide a kit with included software for the microcontroller that is tested and works to send pre-selected (by you, in the ordering process) MIDI commands, for people who order a MIDI kit. These commands can be changed very easily in the free Arduino software environment, directions included, but users will need an inexpensive FTDI or similar cable to upload a new program to the controller. USB users have a slightly hazier future. We will most likely interface with the computer by emulating a serial device, which will work across platforms (may require a choice in the ordering process to get the right software pre-loaded) but we still need to choose a type of device to emulate, and research how the computer interface will work. It may be necessary to download and configure a piece of software on your computer to work with the device and the software you wish to control. The range of possible uses for this device is so great that we can only assume that one of them, somewhere, will not work right. We will do our best.