Wearable Beacon

Synopsis

This project is a visual portrayal of how I theorised wearable devices mediating and relating to the user’s body. The research behind this project was to highlight the importance for society to understand the impacts of establishing and maintaining conventions of everyday technologies. Selected for this research was a study on wearable devices and its direction towards becoming a mainstream technology in society. The end result of this research created the practical outcome Wearable Beacon. Read more about this work on the Concept tab.

Concept

The concept of Wearable Beacon implies wearable devices serving as a technological step for humans toward enhancing their own nervous system. While the nervous system is permanently part of the body, the device acts in similar ways. The functionality and characteristics desired by wearable device users are expected to integrate closely with the user’s body, mediating their senses and behaviour. The technology is to digitally enhance the user’s capabilities in a transparent and expressive manner. The nervous system also functions in the body as a network between a number of internal parts. Where the nervous system transmits signals directly to the brain, wearable devices extend these signals by technological enhancements.

Users of wearable devices are confusing to understand for an observer naïve to such technologies. Because of this, I imply that society can be aware of the impacts from wearable devices by understanding them in the context of an enhanced and digital nervous system. By being aware of the impacts from wearable devices we can channel how they become established in society.

Function

Wearable Beacon is a visual statement on the distinctions between a user’s behaviour and capabilities with on-body interactive devices, and an observer’s capabilities and interpretation of those behaviours. The shirt functions as a beacon, signalling the presence of itself as a wearable device to the public when in the presence of other hidden devices. The hardware uses two Arduino microcontrollers, a Bluetooth module and WS2812B LED strips. The Bluetooth module and one of the Arduinos search for any device with an active Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal in close proximity and informs the other Arduino of how many devices are present. For each device detected, a light pattern forms on the LEDs.

The digital shirt initially appears to be the same as any other conventional shirt, without any visible digital qualities. The wearer moves within public spaces with the shirt, ‘searching’ for other concealed devices. When the digital shirt enters the range of other wirelessly transmitting technology it reveals itself to the public by showing the digital lights hidden underneath the fabric. The lights display animated signals that rapidly flow from the bottom of the shirt towards the head. Visually, the light animations symbolise the data that wearable devices send to the user’s senses. This is a reference to the human nervous system, which transmits signals to and from the brain. Wearable Beacon informs the public of its presence and its mediation of the user’s activity. Observers, on the other hand, transition between perceiving the digital shirt as simply a piece of clothing, to realising it has concealed functionalities that are mediating the user’s activity.

Wearable Beacon is featured in a number of articles including Makezine, Adafruit and Gizmodo. The flowing LED pattern code is also available here.

If you would like to find out more about this research or the project you can email me at marty@creativematterz.com.

 

Development