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.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: MOLBED Braille Display

Electromechanical braille displays, where little pins pop up or drop down to represent various characters, can cost upwards of a thousand dollars. That’s where the Modular Low-cost Braille Electro Display, aka MOLBED, steps up. The project’s creator, [Madaeon] aims to create a DIY-friendly, 3D-printable,  and simple braille system. He’s working on a single character’s display, with the idea it could be expanded to cover a whole row or even offer multiple rows.

[Madeon]’s design involves using Flexinol actuator wire to control whether a pin sticks or not. He designed a “rocker” system consisting of a series of 6 pins that form the Braille display. Each pin is actuated by two Flexinol wires, one with current applied to it and one without, popping the pin up about a millimeter. Swap polarity and the pin pops down to be flush with the surface.

This project is actually [Madeon]’s second revision of the MOLBED system. The first version, an entry to the Hackaday Prize last year, used very small solenoids with two very small magnets at either end of the pole to hold the pin in place. The new system, while slightly more complex mechanically, should be easier to produce in a low-cost version, and has a much higher chance of bringing this technology to people who need it. It’s a great project, and a great entry to the Hackaday Prize.

Floreo: E-textililes And Moving Clothing

pedul [Alica] and [Jerika] are seniors in the Digital Culture program at Arizona State University and for their capstone, the wanted to take something that is traditionally male dominated and make it more female friendly. They chose e-textiles, which are most commonly extremely avant garde and nearly unapproachable with a lot of LEDs and zany mechanisms. Their initial designs reflected this, with multiple LED strips and huge shoulder pads. Then they discovered Flexinol shape memory actuator wire, and found this could be a much ‘softer’ integration of technology with haute couture.

[Jerika] and [Alica] chose to create an electronic flower, able to bloom with the help of a shape memory alloy. When a current is applied to the Flexinol wire, it contracts. Sewing these wires into laser cut fabric petals, the girls created a fabric flower that booms with the help of an LiliPad Arduino.

While they weren’t able to complete their dress due to electronic weirdness and burning out the wire too soon, they did succeed in creating a flower pin that demonstrated the intended effect.

Videos below.

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Breathing Walls with Shape Memory Alloy Wire

When you need something quietly bending or moving, don’t underestimate SMA’s (or Shape Memory Alloys). The Living Glass project by architects [David Benjamin] and [Soo-in Yang] catalogs an experiment in building interactive, flexible, “breathing”, walls out of SMA wire and microcontrollers. Although they use Basic Stamps, the project could easily be extended to more cost-effective microcontrollers for large surfaces. The project is well documented with videos (AVI) of each prototyping step and even includes the ideas that were ultimately scrapped. Even if you don’t build a wall of interactive gills, this project should give you plenty of ideas for uses of SMA wire embedded in semi-flexible materials.