Your Next Wearable May Not Need Electricity

What if you could unlock a door with your shirtsleeve, or code a secret message into your tie? This could soon be a thing, because researchers at the University of Washington have created a fabric that can store data without any electronics whatsoever.  The fabric can be washed, dried, and even ironed without losing data. Oh, and it’s way cheaper than RFID.

By harnessing the ferromagnetic properties of conductive thread, [Justin Chen] and [Shyam Gollakota] have  proved the ability to store bit strings and 2D images through magnetization. The team used an embroidery machine to lay down thread in dense strips and patches, and then coded in ones and zeros by rubbing the threads with N and S neodymium magnets.

They didn’t use anything special, either, just this conductive thread, some magnets, and a Nexus 5 to read the data. Any phone with a magnetometer (so, most of them) could decode this type of binary data. The threads stay reliably magnetized for about a week and then begin to weaken. However, their tests proved that the threads can be re-magnetized over and over.

The team also created 2D images with magnets on a 9-patch made of conductive fabric. The images can be decoded piecemeal by a single magnetometer, or all at once by an array of them. Finally, the team made a glove with a magnetized patch of thread on the fingertip. They were able to get the phone to recognize six unique gestures with 90% accuracy, even with the phone tucked away in a pocket. See it in action in their demo video after the break.

Magnetic memory is certainly not a new concept. But for the wearable technology frontier, it’s a novel one.

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Cheap Flamethrower Is Predictably Worrying

We’d never criticize somebody for coming up with a creative way to save a few bucks. In truth, pickings would be pretty slim around here if we deleted every project or hack where cost savings was a prime motivator. That being said, there’s still some things you should probably spend a few extra dollars on. You know, the essential things in life that you need to know will be safe and reliable, like your car and…your flamethrower.

While we don’t have any information about what kind of car [Steve Hernandez] is driving, but over on Hackaday.io, he’s posted some info about his 3D printed wrist-mounted flamethrower. The final result does look pretty impressive, but given the subject matter and the lack of any safety gear, we would firmly plant it in the “Don’t try this at home” category.

At the heart of this flamethrower is a solenoid valve recovered from a Glade air freshener. Rather than spraying out the smell of lilacs, this valve has found a new purpose in life by squirting out butane from a pressurized can. The butane is then ignited by a spark gap made up two nails connected to a 300 kV boost coil.

[Steve] designed the frame of this creation in OpenSCAD, and printed it out in a single piece. It holds the butane can and solenoid in position, as well as keeping the nails in the proper orientation for the spark gap to function. Admittedly the head of his printed flamethrower does look very cool, but if there was ever a situation where you should be suspect of the heat tolerance of 3D printed plastic, a flamethrower is probably it.

What’s noticeably lacking of course is any method to keep the flame from potentially traveling back up through the valve and into the butane can. The high-speed flow coming out of the nozzle is probably enough to keep that from happening, but we still wouldn’t feel comfortable strapping his device to our wrist as-is.

You may be surprised to find that wrist-mounted flamethrowers are a relatively popular project here at Hackaday. We’ve covered quite a few over the years, but still aren’t convinced this is something we personally need to add to our collection of gear.

Servo-Controlled Eyeball Makes a Muggle Moody

Even when you bear a passing resemblance to the paranoid Auror of the Harry Potter universe, you still really need that wonky and wandering prosthetic eye to really sell that Mad-Eye Moody cosplay, and this one is pretty impressive.

Of course, there’s more to the [daronjay]’s prosthetic peeper than an eBay doll’s eye. There’s the micro-servo that swivels the orb, as well as a Trinket to send the PWM signal and a pocket full of batteries. The fit and finish really tie it together, though, especially considering that it’s made from, well, garbage — a metal food jar lid, a yogurt cup, and the tube of a roll-on antiperspirant. Some brass screws and a leather strap evoke the necessary Potter-verse look, and coupled with what we assume are prosthetic scars, [daronjay] really brings the character to life. We think it would be cool to have the servo eye somehow slaved to the movements of the real eye, with a little randomness thrown in to make it look good.

Marauder’s maps, wand duels, Weasley clocks — the wizarding world is ripe for creative hacking and prop making. What’s next — a Nimbus 2000 quadcopter? Please?

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Get You an E-Textiles Sensor That Can Do Both

[Admar] is a software developer who was introduced to e-textiles in 2011. The bug firmly took hold, and these days he gives e-textile workshops at Eindhoven University of Technology. Here, students learn to build a single e-textile sensor that detects both presence and pressure. The workshop presentations are available on his site, which is itself a window into his e-textile journey.

Over the years, [Admar] has discovered that any e-textile project requiring more than a few connections is ripe for some kind of textile-friendly multi-point connector. Through trial and error, he designed a robust solution for use with an embroidery machine. The wires are made from conductive thread and soldered to a row of male header pins to make the transition out of fiber space. This transition requires solder, which quickly gets interesting when coupled with a fabric substrate and no solder mask. We wonder if spraying on mask beforehand would help, or if it would just soak in and stain and get in the way.

You can see the connector in practice in [Admar]’s capacitive multi-touch demo video after the break. He has stacked two pieces of fabric, each with a wire bus made of conductive threads, with the traces at right angles. Both sensors are wired to a Cypress PSoC5 to create a sensor matrix, and then to a laptop for visualization purposes. As his fingers approaches the fabric, the bar graphs roar upward to show increased capacitance. Once he makes contact, each finger appears as a yellow dot illustrating pressure.

E-textile projects aren’t limited to traces sewn by hand or embroidery machine. Circuit boards can be knitted, too.

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80’s Smartwatch Finally Plays Tetris

While the current generation of smartwatches have only been on the market for a few years, companies have been trying to put a computer on your wrist since as far back as the 80s with varying degrees of success. One such company was Seiko, who in 1984 unveiled the UC-2000: a delightfully antiquated attempt at bridging the gap between wristwatch and personal computer. Featuring a 4-bit CPU, 2 KB of RAM, and 6 KB of ROM, the UC-2000 was closer to a Tamagotchi than its modern day counterparts, but at least it could run BASIC.

Dumping registers

Ever since he saw the UC-2000 mentioned online, [Alexander] wanted to get one and try his hand at developing his own software for it. After securing one on eBay, the first challenge was getting it connected up to a modern computer. (Translated from Russian here.) [Alexander] managed to modernize the UC-2000’s novel induction based data transfer mechanism with help from a ATtiny85, which allowed him to get his own code on the watch, all that was left was figuring out how to write it.

With extremely limited published information, and no toolchain, [Alexander] did an incredible job of figuring out the assembly required to interact with the hardware. Along the way he made a number of discoveries which set his plans back, such as the fact that there is no way to directly control individual pixels on the screen; all graphics would have to be done with the built-in symbols.

The culmination of all this hard work? Playing Tetris, naturally. Though [Alexander] admits that limitations of the device’s hardware meant the game had to be simplified a bit, he’s almost certainly having more fun than any of the UC-2000’s original owners did with this device. He’s setup a GitHub repository for anyone who wishes to join him in this brave new world of vintage wrist computing.

[Alexander] isn’t the only one experimenting with fringe wearable computers. We’ve seen our fair share of interesting smartwatches, featuring everything from novel input methods to complete scratch-builds.

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What Is It, R2? Have Something To Share?

Sometimes great projects keep evolving. [Bithead942] built himself an R2-D2 to accompany him when he goes a-trooping — but something didn’t feel quite right. Turns out, R2 was missing its signature beeping banter, so he made it more contextually responsive by implementing a few voice commands.

[Bithead942]’s main costume is that of an X-Wing pilot, and the replica helmet works perfectly; it already has a fake microphone — easily replaced with a working model — and the perfect niche to stash the electronics in the ‘mohawk.’

Even though the helmet has the perfect hiding spot for a circuit, space is still at a premium. Services like Alexa tend to be pretty accurate, but require WiFi access — not a guarantee on the convention floor. Instead, [bithead942] found that the EasyVR Shield 3.0 voice recognition board provided a suitable stand-in. It needs a bit of training to work properly(cue the montage!), but in the end it compares fresh audio commands to the ‘training’ files it has stored, and if there’s a match, triggers a corresponding serial port. It’s not perfect, but it most certainly works!

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Scratch Built Watch Case is a Work Of Art

The wristwatch was once an absolute necessity, as much fashion statement as it was a practical piece of equipment. Phones in our pockets (and more often than not, in our faces) replaced the necessity of the wristwatch for the majority of people, and the fashion half of the equation really only interests a relatively small  subset of the population. The end result is that, aside from the recent emergence of smartwatches and fitness trackers, walking down the street it’s fairly unlikely you’ll see many people wearing a traditional watch.

But we think the scratch built wristwatch case recently shown off by [Colin Merkel] adds a new justification for wearing a watch: pride. From a chunk of steel rod stock, [Colin] walks through every step of the process to creating a professional looking watch case. This is actually his second attempt at the project; while his first one certainly didn’t look bad, he felt that he learned enough from his earlier mistakes that it was worth starting over from scratch. A man after our own heart, to be sure. Continue reading “Scratch Built Watch Case is a Work Of Art”