Many people with hearing impairments have assistive devices at home that flash a light whenever a fire truck goes by, an alarm bell goes off, or the doorbell rings. With the exception of a hearing dog, these devices are useless outside the home, and this is where [Halley]‘s Flutter dress comes into play. Flutter has microphones and microcontrollers sewn into the dress to listen to the surrounding environment and uses small vibration motors to wave small cloth leaflets whenever a loud sound is detected.
In the writeup for Flutter (PDF), [Halley] tells us she used a quartet of microcontrollers to detect the ambient acoustic environment. Each microcontroller passes the signal from the microphone into a buffer where it performs an FFT on the sound data. From this, the loudness and frequency of a noise – as well as the direction from a time-of-flight calculation – can be determined. Once that is complete, each microcontroller actuates a small vibrator motor in the dress’ leafs according to how loud and in which direction the sound came from.
As with all assistive technologies for the hearing impaired, there is always the aspect of deaf culture’s point of view that such inventions are seen as forcing a disability on someone. [Halley]‘s Flutter dress was with the input of a few family members who have hearing impairments and got some positive feedback from members of the community. Good job, and we can see why it won Best in Show at the 2012 International Symposium on Wearable Computer’s Design Exhibition.