Wearables workshop

Last week I went to a wearable computing workshop by Leah Buechley at Mediamatic. I had a great time!

Leah just finished her PhD and is starting at MIT next year. She builds wearable applications using all sorts of materials, ranging from ‘traditional’ sensors, LEDs and circuit boards to vintage 1930’s threads, conductive paint & rubber and color-changing fabric.

During the workshop we worked with Arduino programmable circuit boards. The Arduino can be easily programmed by connecting to a PC/mac via USB. Leah developed the Arduino Lilypad version for easy development of wearable cloth prototypes by novices (hooray! for people like me!). The LilyPad basically is a flatter, washable (!) version of the Arduino which e.g. features holes for conductive thread to facilitate sewing it into clothing. Even middleschool students have successfully used her platform to build their own wearable devices.

It would be great to have our students play with stuff like this. And I want to join in!

A variety of projects and tutorials using the Arduino can be found on YouTube:
-Tabletop visualizing how much you talk
-Mashing physical movement with google earth
-Quick n’ dirty connection of Nintendo Wii Nunchuck w/Arduino to control ‘robot’ movement
-Arduino robots made during a 3 hour University workshop



I’m back from Florence where I found out that:

  • Microsoft can succesfully use EEG to read your mind. Alright, not quite, but they did present interesting stuff on distinguishing unconscious brain activity in viewing images: you can detect when people process faces or other images using just 2 sensors. Microsoft had a huge amount of papers at this year’s CHI, I’m not sure how to gauge that presence, but the work they presented was interesting.
  • Creative combinations get attention: you can combine knitting with digital memories, just like you can combine eggs with rfid tags
  • Homeless people have more trouble keeping in contact with their family and friends than with finding food – I really liked this session, studies that ‘go out there’ and follow less known user groups are incredibly interesting to hear about.
  • Urban folks have more distant contacts than rural people, who have less friends and are physically closer to these fewer friends. I really liked this study, but I wish they would have included socio-economic stats though.
  • Bill Buxton is a great speaker, his plenary talk was a joy to listen to.
  • Florence icecream is great.
  • Best goodie award goes to Google, but I still can’t solve Rubik’s cubes 😦

My own presentation at the SWUI’08 workshop went well. Even though I’m not a ‘semantic web person’ – I did find the workshop interesting. It did convince me that there is some use after all for Semantic Web techniques, this in contrast to utopic ‘one big Semantic Web’ visions from the past.

Overall CHI’08 was worth it. I met lots of interesting people, had fun and got inspiration for my research.

Phobot in Nature, on TV and travelling

We seem to have survived our 2 mins on local AT5: phobot de bange robot. Lesson learned: scientists need practice on how to explain their interests in a quick ‘n easy way. Pretty nice results though.

Phobot also made Nature‘s(!!!) “in the margins of science” sideline news section: http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080326/pdf/452393a.pdf

We’re keeping a list of all media attention at our media page. It’s been quite a busy time 🙂

I’ll be travelling to CHI tomorrow to give a short presentation at the SWUI’08 workshop. Did I mention CHI is held in Florence this year? -) See you again in a week or so.

In the meanwhile, Phobot2 (Phobot’s clone) will be travelling to Legoland, in a dark box, the poor little toaster.