Category Archives: wearable electronics

A wearable book (The Girl Who Was Plugged In) makes you feel the protagonists pain

A team of students taking an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) course called ‘Science Fiction to Science Fabrication‘ have created a new kind of category for books, sensory fiction.  John Brownlee in his Feb. 10, 2014 article for Fast Company describes it this way,

Have you ever felt your pulse quicken when you read a book, or your skin go clammy during a horror story? A new student project out of MIT wants to deepen those sensations. They have created a wearable book that uses inexpensive technology and neuroscientific hacking to create a sort of cyberpunk Neverending Story that blurs the line between the bodies of a reader and protagonist.

Called Sensory Fiction, the project was created by a team of four MIT students–Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope, Julie Legault, and Sophia Brueckner …

Here’s the MIT video demonstrating the book in use (from the course’s sensory fiction page),

Here’s how the students have described their sensory book, from the project page,

Sensory fiction is about new ways of experiencing and creating stories.

Traditionally, fiction creates and induces emotions and empathy through words and images.  By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination. These tools can be wielded to create an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader.

To explore this idea, we created a connected book and wearable. The ‘augmented’ book portrays the scenery and sets the mood, and the wearable allows the reader to experience the protagonist’s physiological emotions.

The book cover animates to reflect the book’s changing atmosphere, while certain passages trigger vibration patterns.

Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state triggers discrete feedback in the wearable, whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localized temperature fluctuations.

Our prototype story, ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’ by James Tiptree showcases an incredible range of settings and emotions. The main protagonist experiences both deep love and ultimate despair, the freedom of Barcelona sunshine and the captivity of a dark damp cellar.

The book and wearable support the following outputs:

  • Light (the book cover has 150 programmable LEDs to create ambient light based on changing setting and mood)
  • Sound
  • Personal heating device to change skin temperature (through a Peltier junction secured at the collarbone)
  • Vibration to influence heart rate
  • Compression system (to convey tightness or loosening through pressurized airbags)

One of the earliest stories about this project was a Jan. 28,2014 piece written by Alison Flood for the Guardian where she explains how vibration, etc. are used to convey/stimulate the reader’s sensations and emotions,

MIT scientists have created a ‘wearable’ book using temperature and lighting to mimic the experiences of a book’s protagonist

The book, explain the researchers, senses the page a reader is on, and changes ambient lighting and vibrations to “match the mood”. A series of straps form a vest which contains a “heartbeat and shiver simulator”, a body compression system, temperature controls and sound.

“Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state trigger discrete feedback in the wearable [vest], whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localised temperature fluctuations,” say the academics.

Flood goes on to illuminate how science fiction has explored the notion of ‘sensory books’ (Note: Links have been removed) and how at least one science fiction novelist is responding to this new type of book,,

The Arthur C Clarke award-winning science fiction novelist Chris Beckett wrote about a similar invention in his novel Marcher, although his “sensory” experience comes in the form of a video game:

Adam Roberts, another prize-winning science fiction writer, found the idea of “sensory” fiction “amazing”, but also “infantalising, like reverting to those sorts of books we buy for toddlers that have buttons in them to generate relevant sound-effects”.

Elise Hu in her Feb. 6, 2014 posting on the US National Public Radio (NPR) blog, All Tech Considered, takes a different approach to the topic,

The prototype does work, but it won’t be manufactured anytime soon. The creation was only “meant to provoke discussion,” Hope says. It was put together as part of a class in which designers read science fiction and make functional prototypes to explore the ideas in the books.

If it ever does become more widely available, sensory fiction could have an unintended consequence. When I shared this idea with NPR editor Ellen McDonnell, she quipped, “If these device things are helping ‘put you there,’ it just means the writing won’t have to be as good.”

I hope the students are successful at provoking discussion as so far they seem to have primarily provoked interest.

As for my two cents, I think that in a world where it seems making personal connections  is increasingly difficult (i.e., people becoming more isolated) that sensory fiction which stimulates people into feeling something as they read a book seems a logical progression.  It’s also interesting to me that all of the focus is on the reader with no mention as to what writers might produce (other than McDonnell’s cheeky comment) if they knew their books were going to be given the ‘sensory treatment’. One more musing, I wonder if there might a difference in how males and females, writers and readers, respond to sensory fiction.

Now for a bit of wordplay. Feeling can be emotional but, in English, it can also refer to touch and researchers at MIT have also been investigating new touch-oriented media.  You can read more about that project in my Reaching beyond the screen with the Tangible Media Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) posting dated Nov. 13, 2013. One final thought, I am intrigued by how interested scientists at MIT seem to be in feelings of all kinds.

Internet of Things 2012 conference: call for papers

The 3rd International Conference on the Internet of Things will be held Oct. 24 – 26, 2012 in Wuxi, China. From the Call for papers page,

In what is called the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects — from containers to pacemakers — are linked through both wired and wireless networks to the Internet. When objects in the IoT can sense the environment, interpret the data, and communicate with each other, they become tools for understanding complexity and for responding to events and irregularities swiftly. The IoT is therefore seen by many as the ultimate solution for getting fine grained insights into business processes — in the real-world and in real-time. Started one decade ago as a wild academic idea, this interlinking of the physical world and cyberspace foreshadows an exciting endeavour that is highly relevant to researchers, corporations, and individuals.

The IoT2012 conference will focus on these core research challenges.

IoT 2012

The IoT conference series has become the major biennial event that brings internationally leading researchers and practitioners from both academia and industry together to facilitate the sharing of applications, research results, and knowledge. Building on the success of the last two conferences (2008 in Zurich and 2010 in Tokyo), the 3rd International Conference on the Internet of Things (IoT2012) will include a highly selective dual-track program for technical papers, accompanied by reports on business projects from seasoned practitioners, poster sessions summarizing late-breaking results, and hands-on demos of current technology.  We invite submissions of original and unpublished work covering areas related to the IoT, in one or more of the following three categories: technical papers, posters, and demonstrations.

IoT Topics of Interest

IoT 2012 welcomes submissions on the following topics:

* IoT architectures and system design
* IoT networking and communication
* Circuit and system design for smart objects in the IoT
* Novel IoT services and applications for society/corporations/individuals
* Emerging IoT business models and corresponding process changes
* Cooperative data processing for IoT
* Social impacts such as security, privacy, and trust in the IoT

Work addressing real-world implementation and deployment issues is encouraged.

The deadlines (according to the newsletter I received) are:

papers : May 1 2012 | posters, demos: August 1 2012

Given last week’s flutter of interest (See Brian Braiker’s April 5, 2012 posting for the Guardian, etc.)  in the Google goggles or as they prefer to call it, the Google Project Glass, this conference would offer information about the practical aspects of  implementation for at least one of these scenarios,

Assuming you’ve watched the video, imagine the number of embedded sensors and tracking information needed to give the user up-to-date instructions on his walking route to the bookstore. On that note, I’m glad to see there’s one IoT 2012 conference theme devoted to social impacts such as security and privacy.

British soldiers conduct field trials of uniforms made from e-textiles

I gather that today’s soldier (aka, warfighter)  is carrying as many batteries as weapons. Apparently, the average soldier carries a couple of kilos worth of batteries and cables to keep their various pieces of equipment operational. The UK’s Centre for Defence Enterprise (part of the Ministry of Defence) has announced that this situation is about to change as a consequence of a recently funded research project with a company called Intelligent Textiles. From Bob Yirka’s April 3, 2012 news item for physorg.com,

To get rid of the cables, a company called Intelligent Textiles has come up with a type of yarn that can conduct electricity, which can be woven directly into the fabric of the uniform. And because they allow the uniform itself to become one large conductive unit, the need for multiple batteries can be eliminated as well.

The company says it has found a way to weave the conductive yarn into virtually all parts of the uniform: vest, shirt, backpack, helmet, even gloves or the interactive parts of weapons. Different pieces of the uniform can then be connected via plug-and-play connections when the soldier dresses for battle, … They say they are currently also working on a keyboard that can also be integrated into a uniform to allow for interaction with a small computer that will also be carried as part of the uniform.

Field trials are scheduled for next month and uniforms made with e-textiles are expected to begin being worn by actual soldiers over the next two years.

You can find the Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) here, from the CDE’s home page,

The Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) is the first point of contact for anyone with a disruptive technology, new process or innovation that has a potential defence application. CDE funds research into novel high-risk, high-potential-benefit innovations sourced from the broadest possible range of science and technology providers, including academia and small companies, to enable development of cost-effective capability advantage for UK Armed Forces.

CDE is the entry point for new science and technology providers to defence, bringing together innovation and investment for the defence and security markets.

Here’s a link to a video featuring an employee from Intelligent Textiles discussing their new product and the joys of applying for funds from the CDE.

I did try to find out more about Intelligent Textiles. While they do have a website, it is currently under construction, here’s an excerpt from their home and only page,

Welcome to this very special first glimpse of a new 21st century world. A wonderful world of soft, safe, stylish, comfortable, colourful fabrics which not only do all the traditional fabric things but which discreetly and unobtrusively include a host of additional attributes.

The new world of Intelligent Textiles is limited only by your vision and needs, and the enthusiasm by innovative manufacturers to embrace a new world.

Building on the best of the past, see an amazing high tech future using traditional techniques and materials with the addition of the Intelligent Textiles globally patented technology.

Even after reading the news item, watching the video clip, and reading the information on Intelligent Textile’s home page, I don’t really understand the benefit of  the technology. It’s nice that cables are being eliminated but it sounds as if at least one battery is still needed (and probably one backup just in case something goes wrong) and they have plans to include a computer in the future. Are they eliminating five pounds of equipment and replacing it with one pound’s worth? If they include a computer in the future, how much weight will that add?

Electronic tattoos

Yes, you can temporarily apply electronics that look like tattoos to your skin. From the August 11, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

Engineers have developed a device platform that combines electronic components for sensing, medical diagnostics, communications and human-machine interfaces, all on an ultrathin skin-like patch that mounts directly onto the skin with the ease, flexibility and comfort of a temporary tattoo.

The team led by professor John Rogers at the University of Illinois has create wearable electronics.

The patches are initially mounted on a thin sheet of water-soluble plastic, then laminated to the skin with water – just like applying a temporary tattoo. Alternately, the electronic components can be applied directly to a temporary tattoo itself, providing concealment for the electronics.

Here’s a video released by the University of Illinois featuring Rogers and his colleague, lead author Dae-Hyeong Kim, describing their work,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOk7OWZ-Lck

(ETA April 7, 2014: This link leads to a notice that the video is no long available.)

Possible applications for this technology include (from the news item on physorg.com),

In addition to gathering data, skin-mounted electronics could provide the wearers with added capabilities. For example, patients with muscular or neurological disorders, such as ALS, could use them to communicate or to interface with computers. The researchers found that, when applied to the skin of the throat, the sensors could distinguish muscle movement for simple speech. The researchers have even used the electronic patches to control a video game, demonstrating the potential for human-computer interfacing.

The August 11, 2011 news item about this research on Nanwerk features some technical details [Note: The news item on physorg.com also offers technical information but the Nanowerk item from the National Science Foundation offered some additional details.],

The researchers have created a new class of micro-electronics with a technology that they call an epidermal electronic system (EES). They have incorporated miniature sensors, light-emitting diodes, tiny transmitters and receivers, and networks of carefully crafted wire filaments into their initial designs.

The technology is presented—along with initial measurements that researchers captured using the EES—in a paper by lead author Dae-Hyeong Kim of the University of Illinois and colleagues in the August 12, 2011, issue of Science (“Epidermal Electronics “).

While existing technologies accurately measure heart rate, brain waves and muscle activity, EES devices offer the opportunity to seamlessly apply sensors that have almost no weight, no external wires and require negligible power.

Because of the small power requirements, the devices can draw power from stray (or transmitted) electromagnetic radiation through the process of induction and can harvest a portion of their energy requirements from miniature solar collectors.

The EES designs yield flat devices that are less than 50-microns thick—thinner than the diameter of a human hair—which are integrated onto the polyester backing familiar from stick-on tattoos.

The devices are so thin that close-contact forces called van der Waals interactions dominate the adhesion at the molecular level, so the electronic tattoos adhere to the skin without any glues and stay in place for hours. The recent study demonstrated device lifetimes of up to 24 hours under ideal conditions.

In light of today’s earlier posting on surveillance, I’m torn between appreciating the technological advance with its attendant possibilities and my concerns over increased monitoring.

Adding to my disconcertment is this comment from one of Rogers’ other colleagues (from the news item on physorg.com),

“The blurring of electronics and biology is really the key point here,” Huang [Northwestern University engineering professor Yonggang Huang] said. “All established forms of electronics are hard, rigid. Biology is soft, elastic. It’s two different worlds. This is a way to truly integrate them.”

Engineers never talk about the social implications of these concepts (integrating biology and electronics) which can be quite frightening and upsetting to some folks depending on how they are introduced to the concept.

While existing technologies accurately measure heart rate, brain waves and muscle activity, EES devices offer the opportunity to seamlessly apply sensors that have almost no weight, no external wires and require negligible power.
Because of the small power requirements, the devices can draw power from stray (or transmitted) electromagnetic radiation through the process of induction and can harvest a portion of their energy requirements from miniature solar collectors.
The EES designs yield flat devices that are less than 50-microns thick—thinner than the diameter of a human hair—which are integrated onto the polyester backing familiar from stick-on tattoos.
The devices are so thin that close-contact forces called van der Waals interactions dominate the adhesion at the molecular level, so the electronic tattoos adhere to the skin without any glues and stay in place for hours. The recent study demonstrated device lifetimes of up to 24 hours under ideal conditions.