Souped-Up, Next Gen Wearables

The biggest hurdle to great advances in wearable technology is the human body itself. For starters, there isn’t a single straight line on the thing. Add in all the flexing and sweating, and you have a pretty difficult platform for innovation. Well, times are changing for wearables. While there is no stock answer, there are some answers in soup stock.

A group of scientists at Stanford University’s Bao Lab have created a whisper thin co-polymer with great conductivity. That’s right, they put two different kinds of insulators together and created a conductor. The only trouble was that the resulting material was quite rigid. With the help of some fancy x-ray equipment, they discovered that adding a molecule found in standard industrial soup thickeners stops the crystallization process of the polymers, leaving them flexible and stretchy. Get this: the material conducts even better when stretched.

The scientists have used the material to make both simple, transparent electrodes as well as entire flexible transistor arrays with an inkjet printer. They hope to influence next generation wearable technology for everything from smart clothing to medical devices. Who knows, maybe they can team up with the University of Rochester and create a conducting co-polymer that can also shape-shift. Check out a brief demonstration after the break.

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TOBE: Tangible Out-of-Body Experience with Biosignals

TOBE is a toolkit that enables the user to create Tangible Out-of-Body Experiences, created by [Renaud Gervais] and others and presented at the TEI ’16: Tenth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction. The goal is to expose the inner states of users using physiological signals such as heart rate or brain activity. The toolkit is a proposal that covers the creation of a 3D printed avatar where visual representations of physiological sensors (ECG, EDA, EEG, EOG and breathing monitor) are displayed, the creation and use of these sensors based on open hardware platforms such as Bitalino or OpenBCI, and signal processing software using OpenViBE.

In their research paper, the team identified the signals and mental states which they have organized in three different types:

  • States perceived by self and others, e.g. eye blinks. Even if those signals may sometimes appear redundant as one may directly look at the person in order to see them, they are crucial in associating a feedback to a user.
  • States perceived only by self, e.g. heart rate or breathing. Mirroring these signals provides presence towards the feedback.
  • States hidden to both self and others, e.g. mental states such as cognitive workload. This type of metrics holds the most
    promising applications since they are mostly unexplored.

By visualising their own inner states and with the ability to share them, users can develop a better understating of their own selves as well others. Analysing their avatar in different contexts allows a user to see how they react in different scenarios such as stress, working or playing. When you join several users they can see how each other responds the same stimuli, for example. Continue reading “TOBE: Tangible Out-of-Body Experience with Biosignals”

DIY Smartwatch Based On ESP8266 Needs Classification

Building your own smartwatch is a fun challenge for the DIY hobbyist. You need to downsize your electronics, work with SMD components, etch your own PCBs and eventually squeeze it all into a cool enclosure. [Igor] has built his own ESP8266-based smartwatch, and even though he calls it a wrist display – we think the result totally sells as a smartwatch.

His design is based on a PCB for a wireless display notifier he designed earlier this year. The design uses the ESP-12E module and features an OLED display, LEDs, tactile switches and an FT232R USB/UART interface. Our beloved TP4056 charging regulator takes care of the Lithium-ion cell and a voltage divider lets the ESP8266’s ADC read back the battery voltage. [Igor] makes his own PCBs using the toner transfer method, and he’s getting impressive results from his hacked laminator.

Together with a hand-made plastic front, everything fits perfectly into the rubber enclosure from a Jelly Watch. A few bits of Lua later, the watch happily connects to a WiFi network and displays its IP configuration. Why wouldn’t this be a watch? Well, it lacks the mandatory RTC, although that’s easy to make up for by polling an NTP time server once in a while. How would our readers classify this well-done DIY build? Let us know in the comments!

Stretchable Traces for Flexible Circuits

Electronic components are getting smaller and smaller, but the printed circuit boards we usually mount them on haven’t changed much. Stiff glass-epoxy boards can be a limiting factor in designing for environments where flexibility is a requirement, but a new elastic substrate with stretchable conductive traces might be a game changer for wearable and even implantable circuits.

qxMo1DResearchers at the Center for Neuroprosthetics at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne are in the business of engineering the interface between electronics and the human nervous system, and so have to overcome the mismatch between the hardware and wetware. To that end, [Prof. Dr. Stéphanie P. Lacour]’s lab has developed a way to apply a liquid metal to polymer substrates, with the resulting traces capable of stretching up to four times in length without cracking or breaking. They describe the metal as a partially liquid and partially solid alloy of gallium, with a gold added to prevent the alloy from beading up on the substrate. The applications are endless – wearable circuits, sensors, implantable electrostimulation, even microactuators.

Looks like progress with flexibles is starting to pick up, what with the conductive silicone and flexible phototransistors we’ve covered recently. We’re excited to see where work like this leads.

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Conductive Silicone Makes Flexible Circuits

Flexible circuits and wearables seem to be all the rage these days. We’ve got conductive paint, glue, and even thread. So how about conductive silicone? Well, as it turns out — it’s not that hard to make.

[Andrew Quitmeyer] has been researching flexible circuits for a while now, and recently stumbled upon an expired patent for flexible ignition cables, using carbon fibers mixed with a conductive silicone. He started playing around with it, and discovered that by dissolving pieces of carbon fiber in rubbing alcohol, letting it dry, and then mixing it into a 2-part silicone you get pretty good electrical conductivity. In fact, in the range of 40-150ohms, which is actually pretty darn impressive!

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Jellyfish Inspired LED Skirt for Burning Man

[Lumilectric] is getting ready for Burning Man and made herself this fantastic fiber optic LED skirt.

She’s always been fascinated by fiber optics and the effect they create, so she wanted to try using them in a project, and this was just the ticket. The tricky part was figuring out how best to couple cheap fiber optic strands off eBay with a strip of RGB LEDs.

In the end she figured out a way to make rudimentary fiber optic coupling joints using vinyl tubing. She managed to fit 17 strands of 0.5mm diameter fiber into a 6mm diameter vinyl tube. To improve light transfer when it’s all together, you can gently melt the ends of the fiber optics together to glaze the plastic into a single clear surface — don’t melt the vinyl though!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Wearable Robotics Toolkit

The Internet overflows with prosthetics projects, and to a large extent this is somewhat understandable. Prosthetic devices are ultimately a custom made for each user, and 3D printers are trying to find a purpose. Put two and two together, and you’re going to get a few plastic limbs.

The electronics required for advanced prosthetics are a bit harder than a 3D scanner and a printer. If you’re designing a robotic leg, you will need to pump several hundred watts through an actuator to move a human forward. For the last few years, [Jean-François Duval] has been working on this problem at the MIT Media Lab Biomechatronics group and has come up with his entry for the Hackaday Prize. It’s a motor and motor control system for wearable robotics that addresses the problems no other project has thought of yet.

The goal of the FlexSEA isn’t to build prosthetics and wearable robotics – the goal is to build the electronics that drive these wearables. This means doing everything from driving motors, regulating power consumption, running control loops, and communicating with sensors. To accomplish this, [Jean-François] is using the BeagleBone Black, a Cypress PSoC, and an STM32F4, all very capable bits of hardware.

So far, [Jean-François] has documented the hardware and the software for the current controller, and has a few demo videos of his hardware in action. You can check that out below.

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