You Are Your Own Tactile Feedback

[Maurin Donneaud] has clearly put a lot of work into making a large flexible touch sensitive cloth, providing a clean and intuitive interface, and putting it out there for anyone to integrate into their own project.. This pressure sensing fabric is touted as an electronic musical interface, but if you only think about controlling music, you are limiting yourself. You could teach AI to land a ‘copter more evenly, detect sparring/larping strikes in armor, protect athletes by integrating it into padding, or measure tension points in your golf swing, just to name a few in sixty seconds’ writers brainstorming. This homemade e-textile measures three dimensions, and you can build it yourself with conductive thread, conductive fabric, and piezoresistive fabric. If you were intimidated by the idea before, there is no longer a reason to hold back.

The idea is not new and we have seen some neat iterations but this one conjures ideas a mile (kilometer) a minute. Watching the wireframe interface reminds us of black-hole simulations in space-time, but these ones are much more terrestrial and responding in real-time. Most importantly they show consistent results when stacks of coins are placed across the surface. Like most others out there, this is a sandwich where the slices of bread are ordinary fabric and piezoresistive material and the cold cuts are conductive strips arranged in a grid. [Maurin] designed a custom PCB which makes a handy adapter between a Teensy and houses a resistor network to know which grid line is getting pressed.

If you don’t need flexible touch surfaces, we can help you there too.

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The Embroidered Computer

By now we’ve all seen ways to manufacture your own PCBs. There are board shops who will do small orders for one-off projects, or you can try something like the toner transfer method if you want to get really adventurous. One thing we haven’t seen is a circuit board that’s stitched together, but that’s exactly what a group of people at a Vienna arts exhibition have done.

The circuit is stitched together on a sheet of fabric using traditional gold embroidery methods for the threads, which function as the circuit’s wires. The relays are made out of magnetic beads, and the entire circuit functions as a fully programmable, although relatively rudimentary, computer. Logic operations are possible, and a functional schematic of the circuit is also provided. Visitors to the expo can program the circuit and see it in operation in real-time.

While this circuit gives new meaning to the term “wearables”, it wasn’t intended to be worn although we can’t see why something like this couldn’t be made into a functional piece of clothing. The main goal was to explore some historic techniques of this type of embroidery, and explore the relationship we have with the technology that’s all around us. To that end, there have been plenty of other pieces of functional technology used as art recently as well, but of course this isn’t the first textile computing element to grace these pages.

Thanks to [Thinkerer] for the tip!

 

MIT Makes Washable LED Fabric

Let’s face it, one of the challenges of wearable electronics is that people are filthy. Anything you wear is going to get dirty. If it touches you, it is going to get sweat and oil and who knows what else? And on the other side it’s going to get spills and dirt and all sorts of things we don’t want to think about on it. For regular clothes, that’s not a problem, you just pop them in the washer, but you can’t say the same for wearable electronics. Now researchers at MIT have embedded diodes like LEDs and photodetectors, into a soft fabric that is washable.

Traditionally, fibers start as a larger preform that is drawn into the fiber while heated. The researchers added tiny diodes and very tiny copper wires to the preform. As the preform is drawn, the fiber’s polymer keeps the solid materials connected and in the center. The polymer protects the electronics from water and the team was able to successfully launder fabric made with these fibers ten times.

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Prestretched Fabric Prints Pop into the Third Dimension

Printing on fabric might be a familiar trick, but adding stretch into the equation gives our fabric prints the ability to reconstitute themselves back into 3D. That’s exactly what [Gabe] has accomplished; he’s developed a script that takes open 3d meshes and converts them to a hexagonal pattern that, when 3D-printed on a stretched fabric, lets them pop into 3D upon relaxing the fabric.

[Gabe’s] algorithm first runs an open 3D surface through the “Boundary-First Flattening Algorithm,” which gives [Gabe] a 2D mesh of triangles. Triangles are then mapped to hexagons based on size, which produces a landscape of 2D hexagons. Simply printing this hexagonal pattern onto prestretched fabric defines the shape of the object that will surface when the fabric is allowed to relax. As for how to wrap our heads around the mapping algorithm, as [Gabe] explains it, “The areas that experienced the most shrinkage in the flattening process should experience the least shrinkage when the fabric contracts after printing, and the regions that experienced little to no shrinkage in the flattening process should contract as much as possible in the fabric representation.”

If that seems tricky to visualize, just imagine taking a cheap halloween mask and trying to crush it flat onto a table. To smush it perfectly flat, some sections need to stretch while others need to shrink. Once flat though, we can simply keep stretching to remove all the sections that needed to shrink. At this point, if our material were extremely elastic, we could simply let go and watch our rubber mask jump back into 3D. That’s the secret behind [Gabe’s] hexagonal pattern. The size and spacing of these hexagons limit the degree to which local regions of the fabric are allowed to contract. In our rubber mask example, the sections that we stretched out the furthest have the most to travel, so they should contract as much as possible, while the sections that shrank in the initial flattening (although we kept stretching until they too needed to stretch) should shrink the least.

We’ve seen some classy fabric-printing tricks in the past. If you’re hungry for more 3D printing on fabric, have a look at [David Shorey’s] flexible fabric designs.

Thanks for the tip, [Amy]!

Mechanisms: Hook and Loop Fasteners

As a species, we’ve done a pretty good job at inventing some useful devices. But as clever as we think we are, given sufficient time, natural selection will beat us at our game at almost every turn. So it makes sense that many of our best inventions are inspired by nature and the myriad ways life finds to get DNA from one generation to the next.

Hook and loop fasteners are one such design cribbed from nature, and the story behind this useful mechanism is a perfect example that a prepared mind, good observation skills, and a heck of a lot of perseverance are what it takes to bring one of Mother Nature’s designs to market.

Editor’s Note: As some predicted in the comments section, we were contacted by representatives of Velcro Companies and asked to change all mentions in this article to either VELCRO® Brand Fastener or to use the generic “Hook and Loop” term. If it seems weird that we’re calling this hook and loop, now you know why.

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Capacitive And Resistive Touch Sensors For Wearables

When you look at switching solutions for electronic wearables, your options are limited. With a clever application of conductive fabric and thread, you can cobble together a simple switch, but the vast array of switch solutions is much more than that. This one is different. The zPatch from [Paul Strohmeier], [Jarrod Knibbe], [Sebastian Boring], and [Kasper Hornæk] at the Human-Centred Computing Section at the University of Copenhagen gives eTextiles capacitive and resistive input. It’s a force sensor, a pressure sensor, and a switch, all made completely out of fabric.

The design of this fabric touch sensor is based around a non-woven resistive fabric made by Eeonyx. This fabric is piezo-resistive when compressed. This material is sandwiched between two layers of silver-plated polyamide fabric, which is then connected to the analog input of a microcontroller. On top of all this is a polyester mesh, with everything held together with iron-on sheets.

Reading this sensor with a microcontroller is extremely similar to a capacitive touch sensor made out of copper and FR4. All the code is available in a repo, and all the materials to reproduce this work can be found in the various links provided by the team. That last point — reproducibility — is huge for an academic work. Not only did the team manage to come up with something interesting, they actually provided enough documentation to reproduce their build.

In the video below, you can see how this sensor can be used to sense a hand hovering, a light touch, a hard press, or anything in between. Only two analog pins are required for each sensor, making the routing and layout of this eTextile should be relatively easy to integrate into clothing. It’s a great build, and we can’t wait to see the community pick up on these really cool sensors.

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You’ve Never Seen A Flipping Eyeball Like This One!

Inspired by some impressive work on textile flip-bit displays, and with creative steampunk outfits to create for Christmas, [Richard Sewell] had the idea for a flippable magnetic eye in the manner of a flip-dot display. These devices are bistable mechanical displays in which a magnet is suspended above a coil of wire, and “flipped” in orientation under the influence of a magnetic field from the coil.

In [Richard]’s case the eyeball was provided by a magnetic bead with a suitable paint job, and the coil was a hand-wound affair with some extremely neat lacing to keep it all in place. The coil requires about 200 mA to ensure the eye flips, and the job of driving it is performed by a Digispark ATTiny85 board with an LM293 dual H-bridge driver upon which the two bridges are wired in parallel. The whole is mounted in the centre of a charity shop brooch that has been heat-treated to give a suitable aesthetic.

You can see the eyeball in all its glory in the two videos below the break, and should you be curious you can also read our write-up of the original pieces from [Irene Posch] that inspired it.

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