This is the first of my DO posts in the DIWOMaster. In this “course” I’m making a Prototype that deals with the internet of things and interactive engaging design, and how these two subjects can update housework technologies. As I’ll explain in the next post, I’m shyly following in the footsteps of the people that reshaped technology from women points of view. (If you’re thinking why these could be interesting, you should read that post…) So, to start I’m introducing the technology I’ll be using for the Prototype: Lilypad Arduino.
For those who don’t know the Arduino, the explanation from its main page: “is an Open Source Electronics Prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.” The interaction can be both input, sensing the environment through disparate sensors, or output, controlling motors, lights or sending information to other platforms (processing, flash, grashopper..). As it is open-source it can be built and developed further by other users, this has allowed a great community to arise with forums, groups, business, education, professionals,… I think this is a great example of how free (libre) projects can be sustainable creating ecosystems around them.
One of the derivations of Arduino is Lilypad Arduino that was developed by Leah Buechley and her research group High-Low Tech at MIT. Lilypad is a set of seweable (and washable) set of electronics components for soft and interactive environments. I’m interested in playing with the Lilypad because it integrates crafts and technology. I know that electronic and arduino geeks also “craft” in the sense of do-it-yourself, but these practices use separate components, and I think the crafts are better defined with the tasks of “weaving” than with the tasks of “joining parts” (and this is gonna be the topic of another post..). The Lipypad Arduino is in the inbetween as it involves “stitching”. (There’s a research project in the High-Low Tech group that goes further this idea of not designing separate components but crafting electronics with conductive materials, the Kit-of-no-parts that I will investigate further after learning more about electronics with the Lilypad). The other reason I’m interested in it is because its approach has led girls and other non traditional “freaks” to be interested in technology and its applications, and a powerful community of techno-crafts has aroused around it. There is an interesting paper analyzing this community that is now in my to-do’s.
As I already knew something about Arduino and it’s environment I’ve been looking for more information about the Lilypad and it’s special features. It’s a bit more fragile and complicated to connect than the standard Arduino, and it has its own set of modules and components that are also stitchable. The differences in connecting are due to its wereability: to program any electronic board to perform the functions you need to connect it to your computer, in standard boards you do this directly with an usb cable, but in Lilypad you need a FTDI USB-TTL Serial cable or a FTDI Basic Breakout and a cable, that you remove afterwards leaving the small and washable Lilypad board alone. As in standard Arduino you can also use a Xbee board and make wireless connections. The stitchable components can be bought and they are a bit more expensive than standard leds, sensors,.. but you can also make them by yourself with felt and conductive fabric, like in this tutorial, whose authors also them sell ready to use.
There are many resources and tutorials around the web about the Lilypad: tutorials as the introductory one of Leah Buechley and the one of the UNSW about connecting modules; the Lilypad topics in the Arduino Forum, where you can always ask for help; in flickr there’s a huge group were people upload their creations and you can find inspiration… There are also nice projects in Instructables and Make Magazine. I’ll finish with one I’ve loved because it brings a fresh new idea of what robotics can be: