HairIO: An Interactive Extension of the Self

Most of what we see on the wearable tech front is built around traditional textiles, like adding turn signals to a jacket for safer bike riding, or wiring up a scarf with RGB LEDs and a color sensor to make it match any outfit. Although we’ve seen the odd light-up hair accessory here and there, we’ve never seen anything quite like these Bluetooth-enabled, shape-shifting, touch-sensing hair extensions created by UC Berkeley students [Sarah], [Molly], and [Christine].

HairIO is based on the idea that hair is an important part of self-expression, and that it can be a natural platform for sandboxing wearable interactivity. Each hair extension is braided up with nitinol wire, which holds one shape at room temperature and changes to a different shape when heated. The idea is that you could walk around with a straight braid that curls up when you get a text, or lifts up to guide the way when a friend sends directions. You could even use the braid to wrap up your hair in a bun for work, and then literally let it down at 5:00 by sending a signal to straighten out the braid. There’s a slick video after the break that demonstrates the possibilities.

HairIO is controlled with an Arduino Nano and a custom PCB that combines the Nano, a Bluetooth module, and BJTs that drive the braid. Each braid circuit also has a thermistor to keep the heat under control. The team also adapted the swept-frequency capacitive sensing of Disney’s Touché project to make HairIO extensions respond to complex touches. Our favorite part has to be that they chalked some of the artificial tresses with thermochromic pigment powder so they change color with heat. Makes us wish we still had our Hypercolor t-shirt.

Nitinol wire is nifty stuff. You can use it to retract the landing gear on an RC plane, or make a marker dance to Duke Nukem.

19 thoughts on “HairIO: An Interactive Extension of the Self

    1. Many a truth are said in jest.

      I like that this is an interesting solution to the problem of “how do we integrate electronics into people/clothing” (hair braids are quite common and a good vehicle for experimentation).

      That said there’s arather huge, glaring issue here, which I think is quite common across a lot of attempts at acceptible wearables: When wearables act on their own accord, they feel more like the posession of your body by some ‘other’ than the ‘extansion of the self’ as they are often presented.

      As omonous as that sounds (and can be, in the hands of a malicious hacker), this came to me from an innocuous enough senario: Suppose this thing was configured to pull your hair into a bun while at work, and then drop it at 5:00 when you’re done.

      It sounds plausible enough, until you imagine where you typically are at the end of your shift. Most people don’t reliably step out of the office every day at exactly 5:00. They may stay a few minutes, or finish and leave a few early. They may even be in the middle of a conversation with a coworker at 5:00 or doing some other task, only to be suddenly interrupted (or even startled) when their hair suddenly drops down.

      These wearable devices are not part of one’s body, but merely along for the ride. You do not have agency over them as you do over your arms and legs. That means that any devices that are not purely passive (ie dataloggers) must have agency over themselves, taking actions triggered by prearranged conditions and rules. In the case of the hair bun, you could improve things by requiring that the person tell it to change state with their smartphone, or click a tactile pad on the apparatus to signal it. This places agency much more directly in the hands of the wearer.

      With another mentioned application, that where your hair points the way like a waving madeusa, this is essentially impossible. Here you have created some dumb, silent, invisible ‘other’ who manipulates your body (tugging at your hair) to try and steer you in a direction it deems most efficient. I can only imagine the sansation of having your body maniplulated like this being unnerving, to say nothing of passersby. It simply isn’t good interface design to have parts of someone’s body act on a will that isn’t theirs.

  1. I don’t know…if I was on a date and the woman’s hair started moving like that, I might just excuse myself and go to the men’s room and climb out the window and leave before her head begins to spin around. Interesting tech, but sort of eerie.

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