Welcome to the first installment of Inputs of Interest. In this column, we’re going to take a look at various input devices and methods, discuss their merits, give their downsides a rundown, and pontificate about the possibilities they present for hackers. I’ll leave it open to the possibility of spotlighting one particular device (because I already have one in mind), but most often the column will focus on input concepts.
Some inputs are built for having fun. Some are ultra-specific shortcuts designed to do work. Others are assistive devices for people with low mobility. And many inputs blur the lines between these three ideas. This time on Inputs of Interest, we’re going to chew on the idea of oral inputs — those driven by the user’s tongue, teeth, or both.
Unless you’ve recently bitten it, burned it, or had it pierced, you probably don’t think much about your tongue. But the tongue is a strong, multi-muscled organ that rarely gets tired. It’s connected to the brain by a cranial nerve, and usually remains undamaged in people who are paralyzed from the neck down. This makes it a viable input-driving option for almost everyone, regardless of ability. And yet, tongues and mouths in general seem to be under-utilized as input appendages.
Ideally, any input device should be affordable and/or open source, regardless of the driving appendage. Whether the user is otherwise able-bodied or isn’t, there’s no reason the device shouldn’t be as useful and beautiful as possible.
You may be familiar with origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, but chances are you haven’t come across smocking. This technique refers to the way fabric can be bunched by stitches, often made in a grid-like pattern to create more organized designs. Often, smocking is done with soft fabrics, and you may have even noticed it done on silk blouses and cotton shirts. There are plenty of examples of 18th and 19th century paintings depicting smocking in fashion.
[Charlyn] built a ring as a piece of fashion jewelry, hooking up a Gemma M0 microcontroller to a Neopixel Jewel, which packs 7 individual LEDs. The hardware is secreted away inside an enclosure featuring both 3D-printed and lasercut parts.
Rather than openly show off the electronics, it’s all hidden away inside. Instead, a piece of black Chemcast LED acrylic is used, which allows LED light to shine through, while otherwise appearing opaque. Those interested in learning more can check out the product details on the manufacturer site.
While Christmas may have just passed, there’s just enough time left in winter to justify wearing your ugly Christmas sweaters for a few more days. If you’re not one of the lucky ones with an old sweater from Grandma, you can still turn your least favorite sweater into the most epic flame-throwing Christmas sweater there ever was.
[JAIRUS OF ALL], maker of explosive and other dangerous ideas, came up with a DIY ugly Christmas sweater that shoots flames on command. In order to produce the flame-throwing effect, he uses piping from a fish tank airline hose with a T connector attached to one end and epoxied to the middle of the sweater. The piping runs down the sweater to a can of butane fuel that he can control from the nozzle. Once the fuel is being released, he uses a lighter to initiate the flames from the sweater.
The flames are quite impressive, so definitely use caution if you intend to replicate this build in any way. It would be helpful to have a friend with a CO2 fire extinguisher nearby as well.
For a less life-threatening build, fellow builder [Price] created a Christmas tree-themed sweater lined with LEDs and USB-powered figurines, connected to a power supply in his pocket.
As a concept, wearable technology excites many of us, but in practice, it’s been hard to nail down. Up to this point, the most high-tech thing the average person might reasonably wear has been a wrist watch. Devices like Google Glass tried to push the state-of-the-art, but it arguably raised more questions than it answered. It demonstrated in a very public way that developing wearable technology that’s simultaneously visually appealing, useful, and robust enough to handle daily life is exceptionally difficult. If Google couldn’t pull it off, what hope do we lowly hackers have?
But maybe we’ve been going about things the wrong way. Compelling as the end result may seem, the move from wrist watches to head-mounted computers is simply too large of a technical and psychological leap to make. To help develop the skills and techniques necessary to build practical wearable electronics, it might help to take a slightly more fanciful approach.
It seems to be working pretty well for Angela Sheehan, at least. In her talk “Building Whimsical Wearables: Leveling Up Through Playful Prototyping” at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, she went over some of the things she’s learned while developing her Color Stealing Fairy costume. The product of several years of iterative design, the costume is able to mimic colors seen in the environment through the use of a wireless sensor wand, and features a number of design elements that are critical to any successful wearable project.
Even if a custom RGB Fairy costume isn’t on your short list of projects, there’s information in this talk that will surely be of interest to anyone who’s even contemplated a wearable project. From technical aspects like battery placement to logistical considerations such as making adjustments for multiple wearers, Angela’s make-believe creation has become a testbed for real-world considerations.
Here at Hackaday we have a bit of a preoccupation with timepieces. Maybe it’s the deeply personal connection to an object you wear on your body, or the need for ultimate reliability. Perhaps it’s just a fascination with the notion of time itself. Whatever the case, we don’t seem to be alone as there is a constant stream of time-related projects coming through our virtual doors. For this article we’ve unearthed the LED Pocketwatch 1.0 by [Dr. Pauline Pounds] from way back in 2009 (ironically via a post about a wristwatch from last year!). Fortunately for us the Internet Archive has saved this heirloom nouveau from the internet dustbin so we can appreciate the craftsmanship involved in [Dr. Pounds]’ work.
My how far we’ve come; a decade after this project was posted a hacker might choose to 3d print a case for a new wearable, but in 2009 that would have been an entire project by itself! [Dr. Pounds] chose to use the casing from an antique Elgin pocket watch. Even through the mists of a grainy demo video we can imagine how soft the well-worn casing must be from heavy use. This particular unit was chosen because it was a hefty 50mm in diameter, leaving plenty of room inside for a 44mm double sided PCBA with 133 0603 LEDs (60 seconds, 60 minutes, 12 hours), a PIC 16F946, an ERM, and a 110mAh LiPo. But what really sets the LED Pocketwatch 1.0 apart is the user interface.
The ERM is attached directly to the rear of the case in order to best conduct vibration to the outside world. For maximum authenticity it blips on the second, to give a sense that the digital watch is mechanically ticking like the original. The original pocket watch was designed with a closing lid which is released when the stem is pressed. [Dr. Pounds] integrated a button and encoder with the end of the stem (on the PCBA) so the device can be aware of this interaction; on lid open it wakes the device to display the time on the LEDs. The real pièce de résistance is that he also integrated a minuscule rotary encoder, so when the stem is pressed you can rotate it to set the time. It’s all quite elegantly integrated and imminently usable.
At this point we’d love to link to sources, detailed drawings, or CAD files, but unfortunately we haven’t found any. If this has you inspired check out some of the otherpocket watches we’ve posted about in the past. If you’re interested in a live demo of the LED Pocketwatch 1.0, check out the original video after the break.
For many of us, the term “wearable technology” conjures up mental images of the Borg from Star Trek: harsh mechanical shapes and exposed wiring grafted haphazardly onto a human form that’s left with a range of motion just north of the pre-oilcan Tin Man. It’s simply a projection of the sort of hardware we’re used to. Hacker projects are more often than not a mass of wires and PCBs held in check with the liberal application of hot glue, with little in the way of what could be called organic design. That might be fine when you’re building a bench power supply, but unfortunately there are not many right angles to be found on the human body.
Thankfully, we have designers like Sophy Wong. Despite using tools and software that most of us would associate with mechanical design, her artistic eye and knowledge of fashion helps her create flexible components that conform to the natural contours of the wearer’s body. Anyone can take an existing piece of hardware and strap it to a person’s arm, but her creations are designed to fit like a tailored piece of clothing; a necessary evolution if wearable technology is ever going to progress past high-tech wrist watches.
Featuring graceful curves and tessellated patterns that create a complex and undeniably futuristic look, many of her pieces would be exceptionally difficult to create without modern additive or subtractive manufacturing methods. But even still, Sophy explains that 3D printers and laser cutters aren’t magic; these machines free us from time consuming repetitive tasks, but the skill and effort necessary to create the design files they require are far from trivial.