Ask Hackaday: What Is The Future Of Implanted Electronics?

Biohacking is the new frontier. In just a few years, millions of people will have implanted RFID chips under the skin between their thumb and index finger. Already, thousands of people in Sweden have chipped themselves to make their daily lives easier. With a tiny electronic implant, Swedish rail passengers can pay their train ticket, and it goes without saying how convenient opening an RFID lock is without having to pull out your wallet.

That said, embedding RFID chips under the skin has been around for decades; my thirteen-year-old cat has had a chip since he was a kitten. Despite being around for a very, very long time, modern-day cyborgs are rare. The fact that only thousands of people are using chips on a train is a newsworthy event. There simply aren’t many people who would find the convenience of opening locks with a wave of a hand worth the effort of getting chipped.

Why hasn’t the most popular example of biohacking caught on? Why aren’t more people getting chipped? Is it because no one wants to be branded with the Mark of the Beast? Are the reasons for a dearth of biohacking more subtle? That’s what we’re here to find out, so we’re asking you: what is the future of implanted electronics?

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Ears To You: Sensing Facial Expressions with an Ear Plug

Electronics keep getting smaller, but human fingers don’t. This leads to a real challenge with highly-embedded wearable computers. Sure, voice command has come a long way, but it has its own challenges. You might not want to verbally command your Borg implants in some situations. Maybe you need to be quiet. Or perhaps you are worried about accidentally triggering the device. Researchers in Germany want to monitor facial expressions instead. So to snap a picture, you might wink and to fast forward your movie playing on the inside of your eyelids, perhaps you’d look to the right twice. You can see a video presentation about the paper, below.

The paper looks at several different methods to read facial movements. Some were pretty intrusive. However, a promising technique used Ear Field Sensing (EarFS). An earplug with an electrode senses electrical changes in the ear canal resulting from facial muscle movement. Other techniques examined included electromyography, capacitive sensing, and a different form of electrical field sensing.

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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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Friday Hack Chat: Fashion! (Turn To The Left)

An underappreciated facet of the maker movement is wearable technology. For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about wearable and fashion tech. This includes motors, lighting, biofeedback, and one significantly overlooked aspect of wearables, washability.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re sitting down with Kathryn Blair and Shannon Hoover to talk about the workability and washability of fashion tech. Over the last decade or so, wearable tech has become ever more popular, and these advances in the science aren’t just limited to amazing outfits lined with hundreds of Neopixels. Now, we’re dealing with biofeedback, clothing that regulates your body temperature monitors your vital signs, and necklaces that glow when the sun goes down.

Kathryn and Shannon are part of the team behind MakeFashion, a Calgary-based outfit that has produced over 60 wearable tech garments shown at 40 international events. MakeFashion is introducing designers to wearables through a series of hands-on workshops built around developing wearable electronics and electronic wearables.

One of the key technologies behind MakeFashion is the StitchKit, a development kit that’s now available on Kickstarter designed to add electronics to wearables. This means everything from uglier Christmas sweaters to interactive clothing.

During this Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing the design and engineering behind fashion technology, including biofeedback, how motors and lighting work with a human body, and how to design for washability. If you have a question for this Hack Chat, add it to the discussion part of the event page.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat is going down Friday, January 19th at noon, Pacific time. Time Zones got you down? Here’s a handy countdown timer!

Click that speech bubble to the left, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

3D Printing Wearables with a Net

If you want to build wearables, you need to know how to sew, right? Maybe not. While we’re sure it would come in handy, [Drato] (also known as [RobotMama]) shows how she prints designs directly on a net-like fabric. You can see a video of the process below.

The video after the break shows an Ultimaker, but there’s really nothing particularly special about the printer. The trick is to print a few layers, pause, and then insert the fabric under the printer before resuming the print.

[Drato] holds the fabric down after inserting it, and mentions you can use glue to hold it down, too. We wondered if some bulldog or alligator clips might work. The only thing we worried about is if the fabric were made of some synthetic, it might not take hot plastic without melting.

[Drato] mentions she uses Organza, which is a sheer fabric often found on wedding gowns. However, she doesn’t mention if she is using the polyester, silk, or nylon type of the fabric. A little research shows that polyester and nylon fabrics melt at about 295 C. Silk was harder to track down, but since you can iron it on a medium setting, that might work, too. Of course, the temperature where it melts and the temperature where it just deforms beyond use might be different, so some experimentation is probably wise.

What really piqued our interest was the application to creating wearables without sewing. We’ll be curious what other applications you could find for printing directly on a fabric substrate.

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Living 3D Printer Filament

This is more than a printing filament hack — closer to bleeding edge bio-engineering — but we can’t help but be fascinated by the prospect of 3D printing with filament that’s alive on a cellular level.

The team from MIT led by [Xuanhe Zhao] and [Timothy Lu] have programmed bacteria cells to respond to specific compounds.  To demonstrate, they printed a temporary tattoo of a tree formed of the sturdy bacteria and a hydrogel ‘ink’ loaded with nutrients, that lights up over a few hours when adhered to skin swabbed with these specific stimuli.

So far, the team has been able to produce objects as large as several centimetres, capable of being adapted into active materials when printed and integrated as wearables, displays, sensors and more.

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Bouncing Pack Eases Those Tired Shoulders

If you are a hillwalker, wherever your preferred stomping ground may be you’ll know the importance of a pack with a good strap system. A comfortable pack will make the difference between tiredness and agony, and can easily add a considerable difference to your daily range.

At Arizona State University’s Human Integration Laboratory, they were approached by the US Army to investigate means by which the effect of carrying a heavy backpack could be mitigated. A soldier’s full kit is extremely heavy, and while the best available webbing systems will make a contribution to the comfort of carrying it, they can only go so far. There is still the jarring effect of the impulse force of such a significant load bearing down on the soldier’s shoulders as it comes down after every step, and this when taken over a lengthy march makes a significant difference to overall endurance.

The ASU lab’s solution was to mount the load on a spring-loaded vertical actuator attached to the pack harness and frame. The on-board microcontroller judges the moment of maximum downward impulse force as the wearer comes down from a step, and applies a corresponding upward force to the actuator. Power comes from a lithium-ion battery pack. The effect is to make the load oscillate up and down, and to lessen the wear and tear on the shoulders. It does not reduce the weight you are carrying, but it does lift it off your shoulders for an instant just when you need it.

There is a video of it being tested in the sun-drenched Arizona mountains, that we’ve placed below the break.

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