Last Thoughts on Bubble Pop Electric

17 Dec

Bubble Pop Electric is done for the semester (at least for class!).  After prototyping our suit with a Picoboard, we made the decision to re-implement our design using a Lilypad Arduino and conductive thread.  This was a major decision (and risk) for our group, but in the end we felt it was the most appropriate course for our design.  Because we wanted to make a wearable musical suit, it seemed only natural that we use sewable hardware!

Below is an information flow diagram of our system.  Sensor data from potentiometers and force sensors (in the bubbles) is processed by the Lilypad Arduino.  The Arduino’s program then passes along the sensor data to our Python program via Bluetooth and lights up our LEDs appropriately.  The Python program processes the sensor data and sets our music channels to the correct volumes.

We use the Arduino programming environment to program our Lilypad, and Python to write our music processing code. We’re also using the Python module PyMedia, which allows us to play multiple wav files at once all while controlling the volume (and even rate) of the various sound channels.

Much progress has been made for Bubble Pop Electric, but there is still much more work to do!  Perhaps our biggest accomplishment has been completing our sewn circuit.  Our suit currently has a LilyPad arduino connected to 3 AAs batteries for power (which can be disconnected), one potentiometer, and our entire LED matrix.  We have successfully illuminated our matrix, though some LED connections need to be reinforced with more conductive thread.  We’ve also successfully viewed our potentiometer data via the Arduino’s serial window.

We still need to do several things in order to have a completely working prototype.  First of all, we need to make sure our LEDs and potentiometers are working exactly as intended.  Secondly, we need to sew in our Bluetooth chip, which must be unpluggable so that we can continue to reprogram our Lilypad when needed.  We have tested sending data via Bluetooth using a separate Lilypad and alligator clips, but we need to test the Bluetooth chip with our actual suit.  After we’re able to control music with one bubble, the other two bubbles will be sewn in.

After we’ve successfully tested and debugged our complete suit, we’d love to add a surface mount LED mask, inspired by Soomi Park’s LED false eyelashes.

Here is a video of our Arduino-controlled LEDs:

And here’s Ali wearing the suit for the first time:

Your personal blog should be updated with details about the design and implementation of your project. You should elaborate on your part in the design and implementation of your project. You are also encourage to reflect back on the ideas and concepts we discussed in this course.

Bubble Pop Electric was a very collaborative effort – Lorraine, Ali, and I all contributed unique backgrounds and ideas to our project’s design.  My love of sensors and actuators had some influence in our design, while Ali’s knowledge of user interaction made our suit easy-to-use.  Lorraine’s art and music background helped make BPE beautiful and provided a performer’s perspective.  Even though we all had our areas of expertise, we managed to synthesize our ideas into one cohesive creation!

Because I had the most experience with electronics, I did a lot of research and programming with our microcontrollers, as well as with our Bluetooth chip.  I implemented our initial design with the LogoChip – allowing it to communicate wirelessly with a Python program that used PyMedia to play sound clips.   After we made the decision to port our design to the Lilypad Arduino, I did research and experiments to learn how to program the new chip, as well as how to layout our circuit.  I read a lot of Leah Buechley’s documentation for using the Lilypad and for making wearable electronics.  This research taught us how to make sewable LED beads and gave a lot of advice on sewing circuits in general.  Because we wanted to sew so many LEDs onto our suit, I had to ensure that we would be able to supply enough current, leading us to use 3 AAA batteries as our power supply.  I also helped make the decision to create an LED matrix so that we could have more LEDs with fewer Arduino pins!

Overall, I had a great time working with Ali and Lorraine on our project.  I learned how to dream big, but simplify when needed.  I learned how to prototype and ask for outside feedback in order to find flaws that may not be obvious to me as a designer of our system.  I’m happy with how things turned out, and hope we can improve the suit even more!

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Tech craft made for politeness

16 Dec

In today’s world, we’re constantly connected.  We use our phones to constantly tweet, check Facebook, and read e-mail.  Sometimes technology is wonderfully convenient – we’re always abreast of the most current information.  Other times texting and constantly staring at your phone is just plain rude – just ask anyone who’s ever been on a date with seems to be connected to his/her iPhone via an umbilical cord.  Luckily there’s now a whimsical solution – the Phonekerchief.


The Phonekerchief combines the old-timey style of a handkerchief with new technology.  It’s made of a special fabric that shields emf  (electromagnetic fields) and blocks cell phone transmissions.  As the article on the product points out – why is this any different from simply turning off your phone?  Perhaps this Phonekerchief, with the clear message “My phone is off for you”, is more than just courtesy.  It’s not simply choosing to turn your phone off.  It’s publicly acknowledging that yes, phones interfere with quality face-to-face social interaction.  It’s also letting the other person know that, no, their date is not simply not receiving calls.   They are REFUSING calls.  For you.  It seems like such a dramatic/romantic statement, I’d almost be embarrassed if my date wore one of these.  I guess I’ve forgotten about the days of not having a cell phone!

I very much like how the nostalgic air of the Phonekerchief matches the nostalgia of a pre-cell phone society.  Maybe refusing to be constantly connected will become a hipster throwback trend.  I think I might go delete my Facebook right now…

Fluid Fashion with Lucy McRae

16 Dec

In her new video, Indestructible, Robyn wears a dynamic tube outfit, filled with moving, multi-color liquid.  It’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch and really gives off the impression that it’s an actual living, almost sentient piece of clothing.  In the following video, Lucy McRae, the artist behind the outfit, describes her inspiration behind the tubes and how she orchestrated this complex piece of fluid fashion.

Lucy discussed how she very much wanted to make a dynamic, steam and water powered construction.  For her first prototype, she wrapped a friend in tubing – putting one end of the tube in a water-filled bucket and the other end in her friend’s mouth.  Lucy’s friend powered the outfit by sucking and blowing on the tube.

For Robyn’s video, this process was automated using two pumps, the “beast” and the “baby”.  The beast powered over 1 km of tubing and sourced liquid from six separate buckets of water – all in different colors.  These larger, garden hose-size tubes connected to smaller tube’s on Robyn’s body.  The result was a non-traditional textile with a remarkably ambiently alive property.

In my 3-D design course (which classmates Ali McKenna and Taili Feng are also in), Taili and her partner, Nuha, created a sculpture using similar materials.  They decided to explore the concept of the circulatory system, and in particular, how it delineates an organism’s form, even in the absence of structural materials like bones.  Wrapped around a chicken wire shape, Taili and Nuha pumped green and purple liquid from buckets contained in the sculpture to the various tubes outlining the shape.

Lucy McRae has worked on many other projects – she even served as an advisor for Philip’s Bubelle dress!  This dress, which changes according to the wearer’s emotions, was a huge inspiration for Bubble Pop Electric (it even looks a bit like a bubble, no?).  It’s very exciting to see more work from one of the artists that worked on this project.

Lucy other creations can be seen on her website. Check them out!

Bright Eyes

1 Dec

Bubble Pop Electric is all about LEDs.  We love them, of course, so when we saw Soomi Park’s LED eyelashes, it was an exciting moment.

Soomi’s LED eyelashes, applied on the bottom of the eye, are designed to make her eyes look bigger.  The design sketches in her video cite the “big eye obsession” as a source of inspiration.  While I’m not sure how I feel about the implications of what her eyelashes are trying to address, I do think they’re beautiful.  Looking like a barely-human android, Soomi’s video shows her wandering the streets of Korea.  She tilts her head up and down to trigger a mercury switch hidden in her hair to turn on the lashes.  When she blinks, the switch also triggered, and the LEDs pulse in time with her eyes.

In Soomi’s design, a thin wire connects the LEDs to the mercury switch and battery held in an earphone.  It’s for the most part very subtle, although the earphone containing the battery and switch might make some look like a telemarketer.  All in all, Soomi’s eyelashes lend the wearer an unearthly, alien beauty.  It gives a new meaning to having “bright eyes”.

Bubble Pop Electric would love to have some facial LED appliques.  Maybe a starburst pattern on one eye, a la Ke$sha.  Or if we’re feeling ambitious, an LED superhero mask!  Instead of actual wire, we could even experiment with using conductive paint.  Our professor, Orit, mentioned the possibility of conductive make-up.  We’d need to make sure the make-up was sweat-free, but how cool would it be to wear LEDs instead of rhinestones?  I’m on board…

Horizontal and Feasibility Prototype

13 Nov

Bubble Pop Electric has officially moved paper-prototyping stage to real-life prototyping!  We’ve completed our first partially functional prototype as of last night and are pleased with the results!

Because music is the focus of our bubble outfit, we decided to focus on creating at least one working music bubble. We wanted the bubble to function as a potentiometer that would control the volume of a certain sound clip.  We also wanted the bubble to contain an LED that would indicate the volume level by its brightness.  Lastly, we wanted to make sure that we could sew our bubble to a piece of fabric, just like we will in our final, wearable version.

I had already constructed a Bluetooth-enabled circuit for my thesis project, so we already had a handy foundation to send our sensor data wirelessly.  I first connected a potentiometer and an LED to my initial circuit and programmed the LogoChip to send a 1-10 value corresponding to the pot’s resistance.  A Python program connected my computer to the Bluetooth chip, received the potentiometer data, and set the volume of a music clip.  In order to constantly manage incoming data while playing music, I had to use a separate thread to control music playing and another to receive the data and call a setVolume function.  We were successfully able to control the volume of of our first sound clip, so we moved on to construction of the bubbles!

We wanted our bubbles to look like actual soap bubbles, so we shopped around until we found a few possibilities.  At the craft store, we picked up a few DIY plastic Christmas ornaments.  One type was a complete sphere and was made of plain, clear plastic, while the other was two hemispheres that could be snapped together and had an opalescent sheen.  We also grabbed some pearl spray paint just in case we needed to amp up the pearly look.

After painting the round bubbles, we weren’t completely satisfied with their look.  Sure, they looked pearly and pretty, but they looked matte and didn’t quite have the oily sheen of a soap bubble.  We also thought a complete sphere might be more awkward to attach to our bubble suit.  For the time being, we decided to work with the hemisphere bubbles.  These already had the bubbly look we wanted, but they still weren’t perfect.  Because they were still almost clear, they didn’t diffuse our LED enough to produce a soft light.  Instead, our bubble looked like it had a blue laser pointing out of the middle.  What to do?!

Grabbing our trusty pearl spray paint, we painted the inside of our hemisphere bubble.  This seemed to diffuse the LED light quite a bit, but also made our bubble look more like a pearl.  We tried shoving the LED in a circular piece of Styrofoam – this preserved the clearness of our bubble, but made the edges of the bubble look a lot messier.  Painting the inside seemed like the best option for the time being.  We laser cut a plastic base to fit around a potentiometer (and to allow an LED to fit through), soldered some wires onto our leads, and attached the bubble and base with hot glue.  Voila!  A finished music bubble.


Check it out!  The bubble glows in the daaaaark!

We were happy that we got one of our bubbles to control the volume of music, but we weren’t completely satisfied.  What about modifying the music in more complex ways?  We originally planned to have a “whammy bar” effect that could be deployed by stretching to the right or left.  For this prototype, we wondered if we could give a hint of distortion with a slider sensor.  In the PyMedia library that we were using to control the music, we were able to set the initial play rate of our song – we could either speed the song up or slow the song down.  We couldn’t, however, randomly set the rate while the song was playing.  Thinking I could simply add a setter function, I looked inside the PyMedia library.  To my disappointment, PyMedia happens to be written in C++.  I was able to work around the fact I didn’t have a setter method by re-initializing the song each time the rate changed.  It seemed to work fairly well for our purposes.

Now that we were working with 2 sensor values, we likewise had to transmit 2 sensor values.  I had a lot of trouble getting this to work.  Although I programmed the LogoChip to send the data sequentially (the slider data right after the pot data), it seemed to send multiple values of one sensor before the other.  I hackily fixed this by offsetting one sensor value by 20 – that way, I would be able to tell if I was working with the pot’s sensor value or the slider’s sensor value.  This finally did the trick!

While I was working on the bubble’s programming, Ali and Lorraine were constructing our suit.  We traced Ali’s body to get a rough swimsuit-like pattern – then she cut silver satin in that exact shape and stitched it together with Liquid Stitch.  Ali and Lorraine then sewed our bubble onto a felt backing and our satin.  They also constructed a lovely bubble headband accessory!


After this prototype, we plan to use a Lilypad Arduino instead of a LogoChip.  Using the Lilypad will make our design a lot more stylish – instead of attaching a bulky breadboard to our suit, we’ll have a microcontroller made for sewing on fabric.  The Lilypad will also have a lot more flexibility in terms of data – the LogoChip runs a virtual machine and is generally less powerful because of it (though it’s super easy to program).  In the next week or so, we’ll be working on adding two more bubbles to our suit, creating an LED display, and finding a real dance leotard to use!

Project updates

19 Oct

After getting some feedback in class last Friday, Bubble Pop Electric has made many changes to our proposed design!

Our biggest criticisms were:

1)  Our hat is pointless and probably awkward to wear.

2)  We have some interaction issues to sort out with grabbing bubbles and moving them from the “inactive” to the “active” space (and for that matter, what IS the active space exactly…do we keep the sash?).

3)  Our LED lighting doesn’t seem well integrated into the rest of the system and could be enhanced.

4)  Some elements of control (like the stretchy suit whammy bar) may cause unintentional changes to the music during normal body movement.

After meeting last night, we’ve overhauled our design to address these concerns and make our suit a more intuitive, easy-to-use outfit.  Ali came up with the idea of punting “active spaces” and “inactive spaces” entirely.  Since we already have a mechanism to turn off and turn on each individual bubble by tapping it, why would we have to move selected bubbles to an active space during performance?  We decided it’s much simpler for the bubbles to remain on the suit and allow the user to simply turn on which bubbles she wants to use.

We also decided to organize the bubbles in a more logical manner to help the user remember which bubble corresponds to which sound clip.  In addition to color-coding the bubbles by song, all bubbles containing clips from the same song will be placed on the same quadrant of the body.

To address the issue of the user involuntary modifying the song, we’ve decided to add a belt with two sliders to control the sensitivity of the whammy bar conductive suit and the beat/bass shoes.  That way, the user can “turn down” her suit if it’s annoyingly sensitive to her movements.

To incorporate more of a display and reduce the awkward factor, we’ve eliminated our functional hat (though we may still have a small decorative headband) and have designed an LED display for the torso of the suit.  The LED display will be a matrix of LEDs under some sort of diffuse material. We hope that this display can be used to show a few simple animations, etc., some of which coordinate with the music being played. Instead of being just a screen (too Teletubby-like), the display matrix will be in the shape of a cool jazzy pattern that Ali thinks looks like a  Jem costume.  Our inspiration for this display came directly from the 15,000 LED dress by Moritz Waldemeyer and Hussein Chalayan (see below).  This design duo has already created LED outfits for many performers, including U2, Rihanna, and Ok Go!

And here’s a sketch of our updated design (drawn by Lorraine):

Storyboards and Demo for Bubble Pop Electric

18 Oct

We’ve been working on some storyboards to showcase how the Bubble Pop Electric suit might work.  We’ve also made a paper prototype of our proposed system – Ali was kind enough to test it out in front of the class.

Here’s the video:

And here’s the storyboards: