Visibility Cloak // midterm project by Konrad Krawczyk

VISIBILITY CLOAK

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This piece of clothing is an interactive exercise as much as it is a metaphor of the social processes of exclusion, individualization, and allyship.

The light makes the wearer visible when standing individually, but when another person faces them, the lights fade away.

Many of the wearable electronics I’ve seen are working as a response to other people’s actions – whether it’s friendship, affection or personal attack. The works were extremely impressive, but I wanted to make something way different. I think that being among other people is actually a default state for most humans, and it’s rather being a completely singular, excluded person that is something to react to.

At first, I wanted this clothing to be an empowerment to the person wearing it, whether they choose to be individual or among people. But then, I think that the way the cloak works is also a representation of the role of minorities in the society, which are the most likely to be excluded or stigmatized. The lights convey a message to other people: “Don’t ignore me. Listen to me. Dare to face me.” The cloak with lights turned off looks quite “normal” and basic, to represent that people who might be different than the norm are people just like everyone else. 

How it works:

The cloak is mostly made of white stretch cotton fabric, with a triangle made of semi-translucent fabric. An LED strip is sewn onto a stripe of foil. The strip connects to an Arduino board on the inside of the clothing. On the other side, the infrared temperature sensor is plugged to two digital pins, sending a serial to Arduino, which is then read and interpreted by a conditional “colors[i]” in the code. If the temperature of an object is above 29C (which I considered to be a threshold above which it’s likely we’re seeing another person), the LEDs turn off. Else, the LEDs are shining in a rainbow-colored animation, which  was copied from one of the code examples in the producer’s website.

Materials:

  • Arduino board
  • USB cable
  • Infrared Temperature Sensor MLX90614
  • Pololu LED strip, 60 lights
  • A bunch of jumper cables
  • Battery 7V

Prototypes and sketches:

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A step-by-step plan:

  1. Make a code in Arduino that relates the on/off state of the LED strip to a certain temperature threshold (29oC)
  2. Make a sketch on the material of how you want to cut it. Both sides. Make sure they are equal, more or less. Give generous allowance for future sewing. Better to cut too much than too little.
  3. Cut the LED strip in half, and then solder back together at an angle accordingly with the sketch on the material.
  4. Cut the back strip from the white fabric. Sew them together according to the sketch.
  5. Sew the cable of the temp sensor on the back of the strip. CHECK if it works.
  6. Fuse the LEDs onto the strip. CHECK if it works.
  7. Cut the front of the material.
  8. Cut the part of the material where you want to put the triangle. Also: cut a hole in the fabric below the triangle. This is where the temperature sensor will be placed.
  9. Cut two strips of the shiny material and sew it together (use a white/silver thread).
  10. Sew the back strip with LEDs  and the sensor onto the front fabric. (on the good side!!!)
  11. Put the Arduino and all cables together and CHECK if it works. (Good news: the sensor works on 3v!
  12. Put together the rest of the cables using a layer of fusible. 
  13. Make a pocket for the Arduino using the white material again. Possibly with an additional button.
  14. Make pipe-pockets for the LED cable on the same side of the fabric where the LED starts.
  15. Make pipe-pockets for the electric cable on the other side.
  16. Take the back material and make pipe-pockets for the electric cable and an open pocket for the power supply, on the side more towards the cable.
  17. CHECK IF EVERYTHING IS WORKING.
  18. If everything is ready, sew the two parts together.
  19. Flip it to the other side.
  20. Check if it works.

Challenges:

I started with the code. I started with an example of rainbow-colored animation from GitHub, and then tried to mix it with the temperature sensor’s default code. It did not work for 3 days; I’ve been trying all the possible ways to fix it, but basically what happened was the LEDs started to get dimmer and the Arduino kit would crash every time.

The error was: “inappropriate ioctl for device”.

With a bit of troubleshooting with Luis, we realized that a) the Arduino I’m using is broken b) the conditional statement for the temperature sensor should not write should not directly say whether or not to write anything on LEDs, but rather should control the color data sent to it. So that if temperature is above 29 C, the color on LED changes into RGB 0,0,0, meaning no light.

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The shape initially was supposed to be a square, but my material width would not allow for that. Also I prototyped it and it didn’t look very satisfactory, so I decided to make the cloak a sort of semi-circle. Machine sewing was very hard, especially since the fabric I bought is stretchy AND thick. Working with a foil strip was fairly easy, but when I started sewing together the pieces, the white fabric stretched. For that reason, the shape I tried to achieve is a little off at some points.

Effect:

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It works! It does what I wanted to achieve. 

One thing I’m slightly disappointed with is the quality of machine sewing – it is a little off and at one point I actually used a pin to keep the fabric together, because the LED strip turned out to be too long. 

Also, the temperature sensor detects 29 degrees only when a person is very close to it (a bit under 2 feet); this is something I’d like to fix later.

Code available on: https://github.com/krawc/Visibility_Cloak/blob/master/Visibility_Cloak.ino

Source code for the LEDs: https://github.com/pololu/pololu-led-strip-arduino/blob/master/examples/LedStripRainbow/LedStripRainbow.ino

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