Tag Archives: soft tech

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…


Soft Rock

8 Oct

Part of Bubble Pop Electric’s goal is to create an organic, “soft” way to create music.  Although we are using tokens to mix and max music samples, we are also using our musical outfit to control music via body movement.  Whether the user is stomping with their shoes or changing the intensity of a musical element by stretching a Lycra suit, we’re providing a way for the user to control music intuitively.

The Opera of the Future group at the MIT Media Lab has been exploring “soft” musical creation for some time now.  Their Toy Symphony project from ~2002 focuses on allowing children to make their own sounds using non-traditional instruments.

Here’s an example of a “shaper”, an instrument children can squeeze and manipulate with their hands to manipulate music.  This particular type of shaper is an “embroidered musical ball”.    In this case,  music can be generated by squishing a pillow-like object.  Eight pressure sensors made from conductive thread are embroidered onto the ball.  The conductive sensor data is processed by a microcontroller and sent to a computer where music is produced by generating midi tones.  This musical ball is a nice example of an instrument that doesn’t use slider sensors, buttons, or other hard, bulky sensors.  All sensors can be used at once, without a second thought.

More on embroidered musical balls can be found here: http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~gilwein/images/ballchifinal.pdf

Bubble Pop Electric

30 Sep

Bubble Pop Electric is Ali J. McKenna, Lorraine Shim, and Alex Olivier.  Bubble Pop Electric is a bubble-covered electronic pop mixing station.  Bubble Pop Electric is the future of performance.  (And yes, Bubble Pop Electric is a Gwen Stefani song, please don’t sue us, Gwen).

Bubble Pop Electric combines musical performance, lighting design, and fashion into one wearable, portable package.  Instead of delegating aspects of an artist’s performance to costume designers, light and sound technicians, and the editing studio, Bubble Pop Electric returns all control to the artist.

Using bubble tokens stored in a beautiful headpiece, the artist can decorate her outfit and mix music.  As each token is attached to her bodysuit, it lights up and is automatically assigned a selection of sound clips that the artist can choose to play.  At this point, we are still considering different options for how to play each clip.  The artist may tap the bubble to play part of a clip, or the bubble may cause the clip to continuously play while it is connected.  In order to differentiate the musical bubbles from the decorative ones, each type of bubble will have a separate color of LED.

Bubble Pop Electric will use conductive strips of a Lycra-like fabric to transform the artist’s body into a variable resistor.  As the artist moves and dances to her musical creation, the conductive pseudo-Lycra will subtly modify portions of her music, and potentially the lights in her bubbles.

Here’s a picture of a silver conductive stretch fabric from http://www.lessemf.com:

The last portion of our project is a pair of drum shoes.  As the artist walks on the stage, she can walk, stomp her feet, or dance, causing vibration sensors in her shoes to produce percussion sounds.  We hope that by dancing to the beats she is playing, the artist can create a sense of unity between the various sound clips in the bubbles.


Keeping in mind that this is just a conceptual design, we want to address the following potential issues:

1) Not overwhelming the user with an excess of options.  Interaction should feel natural, yet expressive.

2) How can we allow the artist to play different sound clips without producing a cacophony of horrible music?

3) What other controls can we add to the suit?  How will we control how the bubble’s music is played?

4) What functionality can the hat serve besides a “holder”?

Technical Details:

We’d like to use a Bluetooth chip to send sensor information to a controller computer.  This computer will then send musical data back to Bluetooth speakers located in the outfit’s shoulderpads.  This will allow us to process and store musical data without taping a computer to our outfit.

Bubbles will be connected to the suit via conductive Velcro.  This will allow bubbles to turn on only when connected to the suit.  We’re thinking of embedding a magnet and using a magnetic sensor to detect when a bubble is present.  We’ll then use event-based programming to manage when songs are playing and not.

heavily take advantage of a user’s sense of naive physics (NP) – a user will be able to sense when a landscape structure is precarious or unstable rather than relying on a computer’s computation.  Much more intuitive than a CAD program, the user is able to mold, build up, and depress the material instinctively instead of searching through a library of complex extruding, sweeping, or filleting options.

Dance, Stretch, Distort

29 Sep

A potential inspiration for a stretchy bodysuit that controls music and lights?