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.
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.
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.
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.