YouTube Resolution

I’ve never been comfortable with my writing skills. Which has resulted in my default action being ‘avoid having to write at all costs’. Avoiding writing does not help me promote my projects, interests and business.

As a way of working around my writing impasse, I set myself a New Years Resolution in January of 2019. I would start recording YouTube videos to document my projects and interests.

Below was my first video of this resolution, Awkward Introduction:

I have now released eighteen videos in eighteen weeks, and I’m going to try and continue releasing a video each week.

While producing a video is a lot more work then writing a blog post, I feel better in the process and with the result.

You can follow my activities and videos on my My YouTube Channel.


Red And White LED Dresses

Fixed up some broken images 2018-10-01.

I’ve been experimenting with electronic fashion since about 2012. In that time I’ve never produced a finished garment that someone might want to wear. I’ve just created example pieces showing the techniques and/or capabilities of the technology.

This year I wanted to do something different and have something real to show at the many maker events I go to throughout the year. The problem is that I only have a limited set of hand sewing skills. The solution was to find a person to collaborate with.

That person has turned out to be my mother, Dolores Fitzsimons. She has over forty years working in the Irish fashion industry as a pattern maker and designer. I think that makes her very qualified to help me implement my design ideas.

Initial Research

We began by looking at some of my existing example pieces. We found the LEDs to be a bit harsh and they would need to be toned down a bit in a finished garmet. Experimenting with placing layers of different fabric in front of the LEDs, gave some promising results.

We visited some local fabric stores in Dublin, and found that Organza fabric produced a very appealing diffraction effect when a clear LED light shines through it.

So after some more design discussions and these visits we decided to start off with something small and design a dress for a young child.

Little Red LED Dress

The outer layer is an interesting red Organza fabric with a textured silver swirl pattern, with red netting layered on a red cotton fabric. The electronics are 24 red LEDs, driven by a 3 SEWIO8‘s and a LilyPad Arduino USB micro controller.

The dress should be suitable for girl about 3 to 4 years old. More details of the design and construction can be seen in the photo album.

White LED Dress

The second dress is made with a body of white Duchess Satin, a sheer neckline in white Organza and a multi layered flared over skirt in white Organza. The dress body is fitted, has princess seams and a curving high-low hemline.

The electronic are 28 SEWRGB pixel’s which circle the body following the curve of the high-low hemline and a LilyPad Arduino USB micro controller.

The intention wasn’t to make a wedding dress but it could be used as one. More details of the design and construction can be seen in this photo album.

Upcoming Events

We planning to create another garment, but this coming weekend (April 26-25) I’m heading to Newcastle for Maker Faire UK as part of TOG

In May (May 17-18) I’m heading to Maker Faire Bay Area for the first time, one of the reasons for wanting to create some real garments.

Later in the year I’d like to show my designs at Dublin Maker and Maker Faire Rome.

Development Events

Wearables and 29c3

I’ve been quietly working on a product idea inspired by conversations with fellow TOG member chebe about her blue LED Matrix Top. I had noticed the different levels of illumination in a row when more then one LED is illuminated. I suggested that using a high-side transistor or special driver chip might resolve the problem for this or future projects.

There are many options for different chips which could be used in a LED matrix display. But no suitable part existed in a form factor compatible with the LilyPad Arduino (or FLORA) sewable micro controller boards. With this deficiency in mind I began investigating and experimenting with different designs for a new add-on board for use with the LilyPad.

awesomeness.openphotoThe result of this initial work was two sizes of self-etched prototype boards which I called GPIOPAD’s. At the heart of each board was a I2C GPIO expander chip from NXP, the 8-bit PCA9674 and the 16-bit PCA9675. Using these boards I spent a number of nights in August sewing a basic circular and linear pattern of LED’s and resistors onto the back of a polo shirt. This shirt was part of the wearables projects I brought to World Maker Faire in New York in late September.

After World Maker Faire I took a break from wearables to try and finish off some other projects. But I kept thinking about ways to improve on my prototypes and possible new add-on modules.

In November I came back to this project and made a number of changes to the board which should make them easier to work with. These changes include using a consistent arrangement for the VCC, GND, SCL and SDA pins, adding current limiting resistors to each of the GPIO pins on the board, and using solder jumpers to select different I2C addresses.

With all these changes I decided to come up with a different naming convention for these boards. The new boards I’ve called SEWIO8 and SEWIO16.

I sent an order for about 30 of these new designs to be fabricated by the US based OSH Park batch PCB service, which took just over three weeks to arrive in Ireland after placing the order. The circular boards were supplied after tab routing so I had to clean up the remains of the tabs and mouse bite holes with a file. But I’ve been very happy with the results.

I soldered a couple of each type of board and then began sewing up simple circuits to prove that the board designs worked correctly.
awesomeness.openphoto awesomeness.openphoto
awesomeness.openphoto awesomeness.openphoto

So with my trip to 29th Chaos Communication Congress (29c3) in Hamburg rapidly approaching, I started thinking about what I would do or work on during congress. As I was targeting wearables with my new boards and I hadn’t seen wearable projects begin worked on at congress before, I though doing a practical workshop might be interesting.

awesomeness.openphotoSo the weekend before Christmas I began looked through the components and materials I had at home and TOG. Using these materials I came up with a simpler sewable circuit with a battery, resistor, LED and switch. Over the weekend I self-etched and solder a sewable PCBs to hold a CR1220 batter and another to hold a momentary push button, and made up lots of fabric pieces stiffened with iron on fusing.

The goal of this basic workshop was to concentrate on getting participants familiar with the materials and techniques that can be used in a wearable project. So I used the congress wiki to create a Basic Electronic Fashion workshop page for the second day of the event, which would run for 2 hours and cost €6. I had no idea if people would turn up.

awesomeness.openphotoWhen I arrived at congress I met up with some of my maker type hackers friends and commandeered a small table in the Hardware Hacking Area to show off my wearable pieces and projects and a small piece of paper advertising the workshop. The wearable pieces received a lot of interest with lots of questions and comments about what it was and how it worked. The most common question was “can it be washed?”, my answer was “yes with a careful hand wash”.

awesomeness.openphotoThe workshop went very well, about 25 took part in the introduction part and 14 stayed for the hands on part. Over the remaining days another 6 people did the hands on part of the workshop which I ran in an ad-hoc manner in the Hardware Hacking Area.

I was also interviewed in English as part of a series of German language articles in the news website Spiegel Online about the activates taking place and some of the people attending 29c3. LED-Kunst auf dem 29C3 (Google Translation).

Hamburg city and the new conference location (CCH) will take a little bit of getting use too but it’s off to a very good start. I’ve collected my photos of 29c3 and Hamburg in this photo album.

Now finally I need to write up product pages for my new SEWIO8 and SEWIO16 boards.


New York Trip

Early last week I got back from a six day trip to New York city with Jeffrey Roe from TOG to attend the Open Hardware Summit and World Maker Faire. It was an exciting, informative and exhausting number of days.

Thursday was the Open Hardware Summit at the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in Manhattan, organised by the Open Source Hardware Association. It was a very intense day with thirty three talks, thirty eight demos and nine posters and a number coffee/lunch breaks giving opportunities to talk with other delegates. Highlights for me were the talk from Bre Pettis – Challenges of Open Source Consumer Products, the many talks about the use of Open Source Hardware in science and the demo of UmTRX: The open hardware for a GSM base station.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday were spent at the Maker Faire site at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Friday was setup day and it felt exactly like being back home in Ireland as it rained most of the day.

We brought four types of projects with us to represent some of the activities we’ve undertaken at TOG.

UntitledI brought a Ten Time Scale Giant Arduino Starter Kit project, which I initially started for the Dublin Mini Maker Faire.

UntitledJeffrey brought materials to make two improved version of the Interactive Buzzer Game which uses a Arduino for time display and hit counter and capacitive touch sensing to allow the hand-held loop to be wireless.

We also brought two wearable pieces; chebe’s blue led matrix top and a proof of concept design which uses an add-on board which I developed for use with LilyPad Arduino wearable circuits.

I also brought a small selection of my more portable LED displays including a new 32×40 RGB panel with I assembled during EMFCamp.

We planned to spend Friday assembling and Giant Arduino and Buzzer Game and finishing off some of the code. But due to it raining most of the day, a mini maker faire producers meeting and the meeting the maker mixer evening we only got a small proportion of the preparation work done.

Saturday morning was a rush to get as much done as possible before the gates opened, along with sourcing some final materials and a tarpaulin to provide protection in case it started rain again.

I was not able to finish the Giant Arduino Stater Kit due to the time constraints and not having a suitable soldering to solder wires to the copper pipe used in the headers. But the resulting board really looked like a Giant Arduino. Jeffrey had some issues with the hardware not having enough suitable components for two game and having time to soldering it all together and time to tune the software.

Otherwise the day went very well with lots comments like “thats a big Arduino” and “you came all the way from Ireland to Maker Faire”.

In the evening as we were leaving the Maker Faire we bumped into some of the members from Alpha One Labs hackerspace and we joined them for some food at a BBQ place in Brooklyn.

For Sunday Jeffrey was able to make significant progress with the hardware and software for the buzzer game so with a little bit of tunning he was able to get one the games working successfully. Unfortunately an intense thunderstorm blew in and left makers and visitor running for cover, luckily the storm only lasted about 10 minutes.

UntitledAfter the rain a flock of TOG Ducks made a visit to our stand.

Later in the day I got a quick chance to look around the Maker Faire myself, though it was so big I missed some of the projects from the crafters.

After the Maker Faire we were exhausted, we packed our bags and went to bed.

On Monday we got the subway to Manhattan to do a quick bit of sightseeing. It was a bit of an unplanned track by foot from Central Station to Central Park to Penn Station. Then back to the hostel to collect our bags and then to JFK airport for the airplane back to Dublin.

Some personal notes to work on for next time:

  • At events like the OHS I must be more willing to start conservations. I would like to see the other participants as my peers, in theory we have lots of things in common.
  • Keep the number of projects that need work at the Maker Faire to an absolute minimum, preferably no major work on site.
  • Take time ot visit the other makers, schedule to have at least three makers per day at the stand.
  • Try to meet up with other makers/hackers/hackerspaces outside of OHS/Maker Faire.
  • Know when a project isn’t going to be ready and be willing to scale it back.
  • Take more photos and video of stand and the visitors.
  • Eat, drink and take breaks more often.

Some of the trips I’m planning/thinking about for later this year and next year include 29th Chaos Communication Congress in Germany, UK Maker Faire UK, Maker Faire Bay Area and OHM2013: Observe. Hack. Make. in The Netherlands.

And finally I’ve joined the Open Source Hardware Association as a General Member.


Aurora Lamp

Aurora LampOver the first weekend in March I took part in the first Science Hack Day Dublin an open data hacking event hosted in Dublin City University. The challenge was for participants to come up with open data related project ideas, to form groups, work on those projects and present the results all within 36 hours.

Some initial project ideas were collected on a wiki page in the days before the Hack Day. Part of a set of interrelated project’s caught the eye of one of the organisers and he suggested that the submitters get in contact with me for some input and maybe to help.

All the Aurora Orrery project’s revolved around the Aurora or in the northern hemisphere Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. Which are caused by charged particles from the sun effected by the earths magnetic field interacting with the upper atmosphere. The result is a spectacular light show in the sky which is more visible as you get nearer the polar regions. But given a high level of of solar activity and favorable weather patterns, the Aurora can be seen from Ireland in places like Donegal and other parts of Northern Ireland.