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wearable electronics

Instructables recently wrapped up a contest on soft circuits, aka electronics that you can wear.  Grand prize was a LilyPad micro-controller programmer kit, an engraved Leatherman, and some miscellaneous Instructables swag.  This prize was claimed by huebner5000, who submitted a programmable light-up umbrella.

The umbrella is powered by a relatively large 900 mA-hr Lithium battery, enough to power the umbrella for a very long time, perhaps 24 hours or more.  It is controlled by an Arduino, which communicates via SPI with a Maxim 7219 LED driver.  This driver is designed to drive up to eight 7-segment LED displays, or a matrix of LEDs up to 8×8. The LEDs are multiplexed, lit up one row at a time, at 800 Hz. It has built in decoding to display the usual numeric characters 0-9, or the decoding can be turned off to get full control over each LED.

The Arduino is programmed to flash the LEDs in a variety of patterns.  Personally I like patterns that are less blinky.

It’s not the only light up umbrella, there’s also one submitted by sockmaster in 2008.  This one doesn’t blink or have patterns , but it is dimmable via a variable resistor.

First prizes (there were two) were claimed by a stretchy hat that lights up and remote control iPod gloves.  The gloves are pretty clever.  Haasebert wanted to be able to control his antique iPod photo while snow boarding, so he bought a wired iPod remote and used the guts of it with some conductive wire to control his iPod while it is safely tucked away inside his jacket.  He sewed volume, track, and play/pause symbols onto one glove with conductive thread, and made contacts  on the index and middle finger of the other glove. Touching the symbol with one finger or the other sends the corresponding command to the iPod.

If you dig around in the also-rans of the Instructables contests you’ll always find something that should have made the cut but didn’t.  This contest is no different.  A quick look there shows a pair of light up disco underwear.  The Instructable title says “pants”, but don’t be fooled. If you’re good with foreign languages then you know that “pants” in British translates to underwear in the English speaking world.

Steve Ravet

Design News gadgeteer

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