Maker Faire Bay Area 2011 Recap

The weekend before last (May 21-22) I attended Maker Faire, the “World’s Larges DIY Festival”, in San Mateo California.

I was proud to be a part of the eTextiles / Wearable Computing Lounge and Showcase. eTextiles and Wearable Computing (which I’ll abbreviate eT/WC from here on) incorporate electronics into fabrics or clothing. See my earlier post for more on what it is and how I came to be interested in this field.

The Lounge displayed the works of about 10 or so designers. The Showcase was an eT/WC fashion show, held at 3 pm on Saturday on the ArcAttack stage of the Fiesta Hall. I never imagined myself as a runway model and although it wasn’t exactly like that, I sure couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sachey, chantey!

(Did anyone capture the Showcase on video? My Mom especially wants to know! 😉 )

For the Lounge, I had on display the 3 items mentioned in my May 9 post: the Rainbow Raincoat, Smolder and Flower Power dresses. For the Showcase I decided to wear Flower Power, but I’m also proud that Lynne Bruning, who brought us the eTextiles Lounge + Showcase, chose to wear my Rainbow Raincoat while presenting! (I should have warned her the fabric is very insulating and not so great for stressful situations, though!)

I was happy to meet many interesting and fun fellow designers and see how each of us is taking the technology and creativity in different directions. Very exciting times! Thank you Lynne for making this event happen!

In addition to my eT/WC participation, I was gobsmacked just walking around the Faire taking in all the sights, sounds, tastes and thought-provoking ideas! It kind of felt like the county fairs I used to go to as a kid combined with Mythbusters and Mad Max.

Photos from the Faire (see my Flickr for more):

Most awed by: the Mechanical Swamp Kirin:

Wearable Computing Showcase at Maker Faire

I will be attending Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA this month and am excited to be a part of the eTextile and Wearable Computing Lounge and Showcase organized by the Textile Enchantress Lynne Bruning! I plan to have 3 items at the Lounge and will need to pick one for the Showcase. Each of these items share a common theme:

  • the original garment was purchased at Goodwill
  • it is lit up by individual LEDs
  • telephone wire was used in the circuitry

Fiesta Flower Power
They say “beauty is the best defense against complexity”. Who needs brains when you have elegance and simplicity? Less can indeed be more! A coin cell battery powers 43 tiny 1.8mm white LEDs evenly dispersed on this blue floral print dress. No Arduino or LilyPad.

Rainbow Raincoat
This was my first project in wearable technology, completed in March 2011. Diffused 5mm RGB LEDs adorn each of the 10 buttons on this shiny black coat. Each LED is surrounded by crystal beads for accent and additional diffusing enjoyment. Controlled by an Arduino Duemilanove. A button lets you choose either color drift mode for the subtle approach, or switch to rainbow mode when you want to wow friends and complete strangers alike (and/or try out light painting…).


Inspired by a dream, a Facebook conversation and a look, hot and cold compete for attention on a little black dress. Diffused 5mm RGB LEDs are set simply to glow ember-orange, but with the timing and intensity cleverly crafted to mimic the look and feel (well, maybe just the look) of a campfire’s glowing coals. Controlled by a LilyPad, making gratuitous use of the Arduino language’s random() function. NOTE: I’m still working on this one but hope to have a photo up in a few days! 🙂

For the Showcase I will either exhibit the Rainbow Raincoat or the Smolder dress.

Smart Redundancy

Look up the word redundancy and you’ll find a bunch of negative-sounding synonyms like repetition, duplication, excessive, superfluous, no longer necessary… but also a few positive phrases like ‘alternatives in case of failure’, ‘circumvent transmission errors’, etc.

True to the definition, redundancy is often perceived as something negative and wasteful. And it can be. But sometimes it saves your ass! I like to call those instances where redundancy is helpful and necessary cases of “smart redundancy”.

Electronics is definitely one of those saving places. I’m finding this a lot lately as I grope my way around putting LEDs on clothes. I’m a relative noob at this, having made only 2 LEDs-on-clothes projects so far. One thing I’m realizing is that to really make this work I need repetition and back-up-plans, because failure is just too likely in a number of ways.

For one, what you use to connect the LEDs to each other and to your power source and microcontroller could stump you. For both of my first projects I’ve used phone wire – already insulated, light-weight, and free because I already had a bunch on hand. But another good thing about phone wire is there are multiple strands of copper wire. A friend of mine tried a project with only single-stranded wire and found it flaked out on her all too often, plus the LEDs were not as bright.

The circuit itself is something else where I have yet to figure out how to work in the right type of redundancy. One LED shorting out can sometimes bring the whole thing down. Finding the problem LED(s) can prove difficult too.

My biggest dilemma is finding solutions to these sorts of problems. What’s the point of putting lights on clothes if the lights don’t work?!

Backside of an RGB with phone wire

Backside of an RGB with phone wire

Of course redundancy can have its dark side – such as supporting duplicative databases at a large corporation anxious to please its shareholders. But even then you’d better have a backup plan and sometimes you find hidden misconceptions and learn things you wouldn’t have known if you weren’t consolidating. You also need to decide how much redundancy is enough based on your situation. Being locked out of my garage because my backup opener failed tells me either I didn’t have enough redundancy and/or I shouldn’t have blown off fixing the first one!

Weird Is Awesome: Super Bowl Halftime LED Show

I’m not much of a football fan, but being that my home state made it to the Super Bowl this year I decided to tune in while I went about my business that day. Maybe I’d see some neat commercials, I thought. At halftime a friend chatted me to ask if I was watching it because there was quite an LED show going on.

If you haven’t seen it:

Here is a summary of what I could dig up on the technology and some of my personal opinions about the visual aspects of the show.

How they did it

  • almost 400 of the backup dancers wore LED-equipped costumes
  • the costumes were made of durable silver tricot foil by a dance/costume company called Just for Kix in Baxter, MN
  • each dancer’s costume was outfitted with 300 LED RGB strip lights supplied by Creative Lighting Solutions, LLC in Cleveland, OH… so, over 100,000 LEDs just in the dancers’ costumes
  • velcro was used to affix the LED strips
  • the LEDs on the dancers were set up to produce 3 colors only: red, green or white
  • power was from a 12 volt battery pack with belt controller
  • the dancers manually controlled their lights
  • the cube-heads and the Black Eyed Peas costumes’ electronics were made by Engineering Solutions, Inc in Lehi, UT, under some direction by Creative Lighting Solutions

My opinions

  • Likes:
    • how the combination of the LED strips and the type of fabric in the costumes made the dancers’ entire bodies glow
    • the surrealistic feel when the dancers formed moving arrows
    • the cube-head dancers looked really funky – I think the combination of costumes, dancing and music were more than the sum of the parts there
  • I suppose one could argue that the lights shouldn’t eclipse the singers, but in general I thought the Black Eyed Peas’ costumes could have had some more imagination as far as the LED enhancement goes – color, patterns, patterns in motion, etc. I think there is great opportunity to use all 4 dimensions and color with this fashion / lights / technology mixture.
  • Choreography of the dancers forming hearts and arrows: why not combine these and have the red hearts only at first, then have one-person wide white arrows pierce the hearts… or, make the hearts appear to beat in time to the music (maybe they were supposed to look like they were beating but it looked more like swaying to me).

All in all I thought it was great to see so much wearable tech in the Super Bowl.

More info