For the midterm, we are asked to create a piece of fabric that can sense something people couldn’t sense, or can convert an input to an output. My idea is to visualize the rain, because I really like the sound of rain dropping on the umbrella, thus I thought it would be great to also see it. My general idea is to use sensor to detect how strong the rain is and then to have interactive LEDs inside. I did many researches and found that there are many similar or related projects online. They are super cool. You can have a look if interested:
Practical use for sensor on an umbrella:
Built on the common characters of these projects, first I want to make visual effects more dynamic and diverse. Second, I wanted to make this a removable decoration like the lights on Christmas tree, so that on one way you don’t need to worry about how to close the umbrella (thre are different kinds of umbrella; some of them fold many layers where closed and are not friendly to any internal circuits…), on the other hand, you can put it on different umbrellas according to your own preference. So at last after I made a twinkling and fading umbrella:
So there are mainly 2 phases of my project:
First I worked on the circuits with Arduino board to develop the effects I expected. Initially I wanted to directly do programming use Lilypad, considering it would be easier to put on an umbrella. But Antonius suggested to first making things actually work on a usual Arduino. I used vibration sensors. When the rain is not very heavy, common LEDs of different colors (red, blue, green, yellow and white) will blink with the rhythm of the rain, when the rain is heavy enough, which will lead to the aggressive blinking of LEDs, the common ones will die out and the fancy RGB LEDs out on the stage, They will fade between different mixed colors. Basically I built different part of the circuits and wrote the corresponding codes separately and put them together.
You can find my codes here: codes
The second phase is basically to transform the circuits from breadboard to umbrella, which was actually the real exhausting and difficult part. The first step is to soldering the real circuits. I’d never done this before. Vivian taught me when she helped my fix the broken wire on my sensor. In the beginning, of course, I was clumsy. I burned the plastic cover of irrelevant wires and nearly burnt my fingers one time. Gradually I get used to it and after many hours I managed to get a bunch of circuits in my hand. I didn’t choose conductive threads because the fabric on umbrella will have a lot of motions. Conductive threads in this case are easy to touch each other and cause short circuits.
Then I worked on fabrics, finally. I planned to fix the circuits to a piece of fabric which is exactly the shape of umbrella and then attach the fabric to the umbrella frames, so that I can both hide the tangling wires and make this decoration removable. I used Velcro to attach the fabric to the umbrella. I started with sewing machine but soon turn to hot glue, which wre faster, as there were piles of things to be fixed together and I really didn’t have much time first.
After that it was time to put circuits to the fabric. Similar with above, I tried couching first and only to find that it was time-consuming and not very stable. So I turn to 502 glue, which, as always, never disappointed me.
Now putting all these together after my great efforts (toil):
I am pretty satisfied with my project. But there are many places where needs improvement but I either don’t have time to do it or don’t know how to do it:
- I’m still not over with Lilypad. You can see that scary stream of wires along the handle of my umbrella and that messy pile of wires down there. Also I haven’t attached the sensor to the top of umbrella, because I need to return it to lab and I. Another thing is the power, I definitely should use battery if I want to actually carry it into the rain. With Lilypad these can all be solved.
- The fabric is not so well fixed to the umbrella cover. Maybe more velcro or buttons.
- Initially I planned to made white tulle into small pocket in shape of water drop and wrap it around each LED inside the umbrella cover. It not only makes it more fun to see, but also soften the light of LED, making it incredibly beautiful, thanks to the magical texture of tulle (you can have a look at the video below to check what it likes). I have made some prototyped before and Antonious gave me great suggestion on how to fix two piece of tulle together. However, when I finished the major steps above and wanted to do this final refinement, I found that white tulle had run out… So, maybe next time.
I really enjoyed my project, not only the shiny umbrella itself, but also the process of building it. I really learned a lot and had great fun!