Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Yarn About Microcontrollers And Textile Projects

Yesterday’s post on this blog was about the Tetris Shirt, a textile computing project. Today’s post will follow up on that topic with a couple related ideas and articles.
Conductive yarn

First up is the primary focus of the post -- ‘smart' yarn. A few days ago I read a Wired article titled "This Smart Yarn Makes Gadget Interactions Magical." The article discusses a relatively unique approach to textile computing projects. This novel type of yarn combines conductive steel fiber and non-conductive yarn fiber.
"A new project from Royal College of Art student Yen Chen Chang explores what happens when you replace glass, metal and plastic with textile control mechanisms. The result? A totally new way to interact with our everyday devices. Using conductive yarn made from 80 percent polyester and 20 percent stainless steel...Chang knit and crocheted a series of
objects that control devices by pulling, squeezing and stroking. When manipulated, the overlap of the metal fiber causes the textile to change conductivity which is then measured by an Arduino and communicated to the gadgets...Chang developed the
Squeezy Juicer, a juicer that only works when you squeeze an oversized knit ball between two people. The faster you squish the ball, the quicker you’ll have your orange juice...“When you integrate different sensing technology into today’s electronics, you can make something look totally different,” he says
Dezeen's article explains how Chang's conductive yarn came to be.
"Knit Sensors was Yen Chen Chang's graduation project from the Design Products course at London's RCA, and involved experimenting with conductive textiles to provide a more tangible alternative to touch screens and other typical interfaces...The designer began his project by exploring the possibility of knitting standard electrical cables into self-supporting structures, which he realised generated a small amount of resistance because of the complexity of their intertwined surfaces. Recognising that manipulating the surfaces affected the amount of resistance, Chang began to explore the possibility of weaving with conductive yarns connected to sensors that translate actions like stretching and pulling into voltage changes."
Yarn glove electronics
Two other websites to look at if this yarn is of interest to you are the alphafit and Eeonyx sites. The alphafit technology involves pressure sensitive textiles. The company states:
"For the first time it is now measure surface pressure on three-dimensional variable surfaces. The filament itself measures the pressure. We have developed a textile system that works without the need of inserting any industrial sensors. This measurement system can be integrated into any textile."
Eeonyx makes an electronics-friendly yarn that is says consists of,
"...a conductive polymer coated yarn with precisely tunable electrical resistance and excellent uniformity of linear resistance. EeonYarn™ is durable, able to stand up to real world conditions of abrasion and repeated washings. Applications for EeonYarn™ include radar absorbing fabrics and composites, resistive fabric heaters, and woven pressure sensors."
Adafruit tilt sensor
More readily available, or maybe lower cost, textile microcontroller (MCU) project supplies and techniques are described in Adafruit's datasheet titled "Handcrafting Textile Sensors From Scratch." This PDF document shows a whole slew of supplies and tools for textile sensor projects. It shows the basics of making textile sensors such as a pressure sensor matrix and a tilt sensor. A worthwhile read for someone interested in textile computing projects. Another great background guide for this topic is Katie's "Soft Electronics Tutorial."

Two other random 'textile computing' items I'll throw in here at the end are the Lilypad Arduino, an alternative to the Adafruit FLORA mentioned in yesterday's blog post, and ChipChick's article titled "Dragon Inspired Outfit Hits the Fashionware Runway Show" which has some pretty interesting projects. The Lilypad has been used in many projects -- just Google   Lilypad project   and you'll find more wearable computing projects than you have time to read about. The ChipChick article, although not solely about MCU fashion items, does talk about relevant products, saying:
"CE Week may be over but the fashion will always live on. A one stop shop for NY’s geek-erati, but this year they got treated to a bit of high fashion as well. The runway show combined wearable fitness, one of a kind high tech fashion design, robotics, and program for young kids...The Dragon Queen is a collaborative design evolved from Victoria Secret Wings...The dragon interacts with the audience through a mobile app that controls its movement through WiFi.
Lilypad Arduino
The dragon’s power comes from a combination of an EZ robot controller, a speaker, 3D printed eyes, and LED strip lights...Strokes and Dots is an outfit inspired by early modern art but it combines speed, graphic design and technology. The LEDs woven into the fabric are motion and sound responsive
The textile computing world is big and getting bigger every day! What project would you like to do with fabrics and microcontrollers? If you do a lot of fabric work and want help with the microcontroller or electronics part of your project, consider coming to a Humboldt Microcontrollers Group meeting and explaining what you'd like to do. Or ask questions you have about how MCUs work or what their capabilities are. We'll do our best to help you out, and it might result in you heading out into a whole new world of fabric projects.


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