Clothing Gets Computerized
Sure those name brand threads may look good, but when was the last time they allowed you to become a walking sound and light show? The Soundie, part hoodie and part electric keyboard, is a build-it-yourself project now featured on the Instructables website. By touching the Soundie at different points and with different numbers of fingers, different pitches and lights will activate. Vary the amount of contact and you change the light and sound. It turns your hoodie into a musical instrument you can wear. Check out the video after the break.
The Soundie works by measuring voltage differences across special iron-on conductive fabric. All the information is processed by a special computer chip from Arduino called the LilyPad (more on this later). The chip then sends signals to a sound generator and LEDs. Just a little wiggle of your fingers, and you are on your way to becoming a hoodie virtuoso.
Along with augmented reality video merging, and total-body interaction media, the Soundie is part of a larger trend of immersion technologies. As complex technologies become simpler to use and cheaper to buy, they also become irresistible additions for entertainment, art, and fashion. We are moving towards a blending of form and function: computer devices that are also clothing and machines that are also art. This isn't a new trend by any means: anybody ever used a Mickey Mouse phone? Heck, have you seen the wifi t-shirt? The difference is that soon a single object, such as the Soundie, will be equally capable of performing many distinct functions in the same form. Just as smart phones have merged computers and cell phones, projects like the Soundie will combine distinct technologies into a single package.
But we're totally skipping the other amazing part of the Soundie: it's build it yourself! The creator of the Soundie, Kanjun Qiu from the MIT media lab, uploaded detailed instructions for building your own copy onto Instructables. Rather than being a retail store, Instructables provides the know-how for thousands of projects ranging from arts and crafts to full-fledged robotics. It's a great example of how the "make" cultural phenomenon is exploring higher end technology.
Just as Kanjun Qiu and Instructables is providing the know-how, Arduino is providing the means. The Arduino LilyPad is a microcontroller board that is open source, fully programmable, flexible in use, and inexpensive (usually less than $50). It's software can work off of Mac, Linux, and Microsoft platforms. Run by a bunch of prototyping enthusiasts, Arduino has some really great products that allow users to bring microchip controls to just about any project. The LilyPad is perfect for the Soundie because it not only comes in stylish purple, it also has extra wide contact holes to allow for the use of conductive thread in place of wires. Don't want to buy a LilyPad? Arduino actually provides the schematics so you can build the board yourself.
The open source trend is providing a huge wave of potential in every technological arena. In the realm of fashion and electronics, it has give us the Soundie. Cute, fun, and definitely cool, I get the feeling it's only the tip of the iceberg. Technology itself is becoming a fashion, and as the ability emerges to blend technology into new realms, designers will take advantage of it. I anxiously await the day when my hat can turn into a helicopter, but until then I'll practice playing the Inspector Gadget theme song on my Soundie.