Summer 2015 at The Crated

As the summer sets in and air conditioners blast, our team is counterintuitively thinking about turning up the heat a bit more with our latest R&D project. We're in the midst of developing a heated jacket called Kelvin. Kelvin is designed for manufacturing and to achieve this, we are investigating printed soft circuitry, washable wearables and wearable control systems. This summer, we have two fantastic interns onboard, Gian Cui and Teresa Lamb who sound off on the project below.

Sampling types of soft circuitry - done by Natasha Lewandrowski 

Sampling types of soft circuitry - done by Natasha Lewandrowski 


Gian on why we chose project Kelvin:

Have you ever wondered why some of your best ideas come to life while in a warm shower or asleep?  One assumption made by many is that the warmth and comfort of either activity increases the release of dopamine (the neurotransmitter that is responsible for controlling pleasure) and contributes to the effective regulation of the hippocampus (the area of the brain that is responsible for memory and learning).  By eliminating exterior discomfort, one is capable of having clear access to both the conscious and unconscious mind. According to David Eagleman, the unconscious mind is where we process the most unordinary and significant ideas and thoughts.  Therefore, we know that warmth is one of the indispensable elements to achieve physical comfort.

Thermoregulation helps us to maintain a state of homeostasis (balance within the body).  When it’s hot, our body uses evaporative cooling as a way to allow excess heat to escape.  When it’s cold, our body can minimize heat loss by erecting body hair to slow down the air movement across the skin, but it’s not very effective at restoring body heat when already cold.

    Driven by a bit of science and lots of curiosity, we decided to create a winter jacket for commuters in the city that is capable of maintaining  a regular bodily temperature that promotes a productive merging of the conscious and unconscious minds through maximizing  physical comfort.  We have two methods of creating this jacket; one is to use PCM (Phase changing material) to design the jacket, and another is to use electronic components.  The second method somehow seems more effective when it comes to supplying heat to the body.  Our main goal is to intergate electronic components into the jacket without sacrificing style, and that’s how the project Kelvin was born.  


Teresa on her research on soft switches and components:

I’m wrapping up my first week at The Crated. While we hone the details of our heated jacket project, I am performing some of my own research and experimentation with component design. Our approach to soft circuitry in design for manufacturing will largely help differentiate our product.

Over the past several months of rapid prototyping with wearables and soft circuitry, I have found a major issue with components. Buttons, LEDs, and microcontrollers that target the wearables market are hard components modified with holes for sewing. This means that instead of taking the characteristics of the fabric, the components and the connections experience stress when bent and are not washable. With projects coming out like the Knitted Radio (http://ebrukurbak.net/the-knitted-radio/) and Google’s Project Jaquard (https://www.google.com/atap/project-jacquard/) it’s clear the ultimate path is for the textiles to actually become the components. Although that is a tempting idea, it still means circuitry will need to learn to blend in.

While I develop my own line of components, I will be considering both prototyping and manufacturing. My goal is to build a button, switch, and battery holder in the next two months. I am focusing primarily on flexibility, washability, and modularity.

Our first test at The Crated involved finding a way to encase existing components for waterproofing. We used a 2-part moldable silicone mixture to enclose an LED. The LED was connected to power and ground using conductive thread. While submerged in water the LED remained lit, and was visible through the opaque silicone.

Gian water testing a few simple circuits.

Gian water testing a few simple circuits.

 

I also used the silicone mixture to create my first round of soft buttons. I molded them by hand and used pieces of copper tape and flexible stranded wire to connect them to power. Using the rubber as a spacer, I borrowed the design from my usual fabric buttons.

Testing out Teresa's soft button made from silicone and copper tape

Testing out Teresa's soft button made from silicone and copper tape

 

These were not very successful because the copper tape was too flexible and molding by hand was too slow and inaccurate. The silicone would start to set before I could properly shape it. One benefit of using silicone is that it welds almost seamlessly to itself, which makes it ideal for encasing circuits. My next step is to research button design and to develop a mold for the silicone buttons.

 

Stay tuned for more updates while we develop Kelvin and dive deeper into wearable tech 2.0.

 

Defining Wearable Technology

DEFINING WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY


(loosely using Quicksort, the Tower of Babel and “selppa”)

Let’s decide that apples should be called selppa (because inversions are fun of course). With this new word in hand, we head to our local farmer’s market and request selppa from every vendor who sells red, crisp fibrous fruit. As you can imagine, inquiring about  selppa proves moot, making this word useless for communication as any word is only as useful as its likelihood to be generally understood.


Let’s take this concept of semantic unclarity and apply it to one of the buzziest buzzwords in Silicon Alley. *Enter wearable technology stage left*. It seems as though this term tends to defeat the purpose of language, leaving people more confused than clarified when used. When one mutters, “wearable tech” the most common images that come to mind are smartwatches and Google Glass. The informed consumer may think of a Ralph Lauren Polo Tech shirt, or a hacker/maker may think of the lilypad and an Instructables project. Communication, ideation and advancement often become difficult when we all draw different references for the same term.


If you go to a store and ask politely, “where can I buy some wearable tech, please?” They might either point you out the door, or to their local display of Jawbones and Fitbit. These specific biometric trackers are just the beginning of where wearable technology can go. However, it seems as though we don’t have the vocabulary for universally communicating different types of products under that larger category. From haptic feedback blazers à la Billie Whitehouse, to 6th sense projection systems, the term wearable technology is becoming less and less specific, falling into a Tower of Babel-like confusion of tongues.


With this in mind, it seems useful to start being specific about wearables and sharing these specific terms and perceptions with others until we come to unified conclusions about meaning. At The Crated, we observe wearable technology falling into two categories. There are consumer products and enabling technologies for wearable tech. See the chart below to see how the term wearable tech can be broken down into several different categories.



 

 

By definition (according to the high and holy source of knowledge, Wikipedia), wearable tech refers to “clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies”. Yet the word technology is defined as “ the collection of techniques, methods or processes used in the production of goods or services …[and] can be the knowledge of techniques, processes, etc”. Continuing this Quicksort method of divide and conquer, let’s also look at the word wearable. This term in itself draws a blank on Wikipedia, alluding to recent fabrication. This seems logical. When was the last time you’ve used the word wearable to describe anything other than technology?

 

Looking at the individual words involved in this term, wearable technology as a combined phrase might actually be more accurately defined as a very broad phyla of objects that combine aesthetics and algorithms. With this mind, we see wearable technology as objects that live on the body and are advanced electronically, structurally or chemically.

 

Whether you disagree or are aligned with this view of the space, the important part of this definition is to realize that it’s mutable. The future of language is decided upon in the present and it’s up to us to create a lexicon that represents wearables as the eclectic taxonomy that it can be. How will we speak about wearable technology in 2020? You tell us.


 

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wearable

 

Graphing Software:

yEd