Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wire, paint, etc

TeamBAMFness got a lot of great feedbacks and suggestions on our first prototype of the Chameleon Suit.
Most people thought our idea was really creative and exciting, but they also had questions and concerns regarding the actual construction of the suit and the implementation of the features we proposed. 
One of the more often mentioned concern was regarding the subtleness of the suit-morphing in public. Will the suit instantaneously attempt to change it's shape while the wearer's performing certain tasks? Can there be a way to stop the transformation once it has begun? How can the wearer prevent unwanted attention while transforming his/her suit? 
So to answer these questions, I began to look more into the technical aspect of the project (such as researching more in-depth about Muscle Wire's capability and restrictions). 

Muscle Wires is a patented brand of Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) that exhibit hardness and elasticity properties that change radically at distinct temperatures. Since the hardness and shape of the wire is predefined beforehand, every time there's a specific temperature change, the Muscle Wires will react accordingly. 
This is a video I found on Youtube that illustrates the concept of Muscle Wires. However, in this instance, the experimenter activates the wire with hot water. For our project, we will be using electrical currents to heat up the wires instead.
While researching more into the physics behind Muscle Wires as well as the price range for ordering them in bulk, I ran into this slight dilemma:
          Since Muscle Wires will only transition between its different states through temperature change, in order to revert the wires back to its original state, we'll have to come up with a way to cool it down. I'm surprised I haven't thought about this beforehand. Sure, we can use electrical current to make the wires bend and retract (in order to simulate a sleeve shortening action), but how can we get the sleeve back down again? The wearer could just pull on the sleeve to revert it back to its original position (this might actually be a better idea), but somehow the idea of manual movements to affect change to the suit bothers me. On one of the feedback surveys we got back, one person asked "can't she just scrunch up her sleeves?". That is true. What makes our suit so special during transformation? What we're proposing for the sleeve extension and shortening acts pretty much the same way as if people are pushing their long-sleeved shirt upwards. Maybe we should rethink about the concept of sleeve transformation.
I think this picture illustrates the concept of rolling up a sleeve. In real life, there're so many different ways to roll up/shorten a long sleeve, and different people apply different lengths to their sleeves under various circumstances. We proposed on changing the long sleeved shirt into a short sleeved shirt. But what about all that extra material? Will they just all remain bunched up on the wearer's arm like in the picture above? Or is there some way to divert those extra fabrics so they're no longer visible, and the sleeve can actually resemble a short sleeve?
This is an issue that needs more thoughts from all of us. 

Aside from the brief mechanical component of the suit that I thought about, I also looked into the different type of designs we can have for the suit. We mentioned using LED lights embedded beneath the suit to give it more flavor and personality. I still think this is a good choice, because not only can we use different colors of LED lights, but we can also arrange them into different patterns/shapes (ie. shape of a tie, flower, etc). That way only a certain pattern will show up under different conditions. 
Lights are always good, but what if there're some other types of transformation we can adopt for the outward design of the suit. Some of the feedbacks we received mentioned temperature-changing ink and UV ink. One of the sites I visited during research offered Therochromic Ink, which has the ability to change color based on temperature changes. This technology is very common in baby products. I've seen baby spoons turn from white to pink if the food on it is a bit too hot. 
Baby spoon turning from blue to white when in contact with hot food.
We can definitely use this technology in our suit. If the temperature is hot (ie. summer weather), the base color of the shirt can be a light/summery shade. If the user wears the suit in the winter, maybe the color can be a darker/solid shade. Although temperature is an external input, it can very much be linked to a person's mood. I know that in the winter I'm much more subdued and serious than I am in the summer. Different temperature definitely affect people's mood. By countering the expected mood change with a different color on the suit, we can help the wearer feel more lively or calm. 
Another idea is to use ink that's sensitive to UV light. These inks are very popular in tatoo industries as well as frat parties (ie. black light). It'd be pretty cool to have special patterns on the suit that'll only be visible when the wearer is exposed to blacklight (such as dance parties). That way, those patterns can be somewhat daring, and the wearer doesn't have to fear about making the wrong impression at different settings. 
Tattoo done in UV ink becomes visible under partial blacklight. 
There's a lot of food for thought from the feedback we received, and even more areas we can explore in order to make our suit more user-friendly and exciting. I can't wait to get my hands on some of those Muscle Wires and special ink!

Team BAMFness Prototype Creation!

So for the upcoming Milestone of the TUI project, we had to make a low-fidelity prototype of our proposed project. Consuelo, Heidi, Annie and I got together during the week and plowed through the assignment. During our craft-making process, we learned a lot about the limitations of our design, and adjusted it accordingly.

Since Heidi and Annie are super artistic, they took charge of drawing out the storyboard and writing up a feasible scenario for the Chameleon Suit.
Heidi and Annie working hard on the paper designs of the suit.
Consuelo and I decided to tackle the actual construction of the suit.
We decided to use those rolls of multi-colored paper provided by Student Activities Office (since we didn't really go buy fabrics) along with some strings we found in the HCI lab. It turned out that the papers we used were super thin and easy to tear, which caused us SO MUCH trouble during the assembly of the suit. We based our suit on Consuelo's body size :) and I focused on making the top portion of the suit.

While measuring and cutting the paper, I realized just how difficult it was to actually make a piece of wearable clothing! There's so much details that need attention, such as shoulder width, arm length, how the shirt is going to fold/bend when the arm moves. So I told myself that before making a more expensive prototype, I'm going to research more into basic cloth designing concepts.
Soon after we started taping different papers together, Consuelo and I realized that because of the quality of the paper, it's almost impossible to fold/roll them up and expect the material to survive a second attempt. So instead of implementing the rolling/folding/bunching fabrics up technique we previously proposed, we adopted an alternative strategy (just for making this prototype) of making two different-sized sections of the limbs (arms and legs), and have the smaller section extend out of the larger section (kind of similar to how a biker would slide up their transparent visor, and the clear plastic would go over the actual helmet). This strategy ensure that the suit will still be wearable, and that it can actually survive our preliminary testing so we can showcase it in class the next day.
The pant trouser here is divided up into two sections. The section on the lower leg will slide up into the bigger section.
We also decided to only implement the arm extension, leg extension, and skirt roll-up features of the suit (because we haven't really thought about how to implement the collar-changing aspect of the design). Eventually with much swearing, tearing (not the crying kind, but the paper ripping kind), and taping, we managed to get the suit on Consuelo.

 Although the mechanisms on the suit are still very faulty, we thought this super-low fidelity prototype managed to deliver the basic idea of our project proposal.
Obviously we realized many shortcomings with the design of the suit (such as how to strategically place the extension mechanisms so they don't hinder/interfere with the wearer's movements, how to create a comfortable clothing template so the suit can actually be wore in real life without the wearer suffering from constant discomfort, and as well as the type of materials we will be using to make the suit, how sturdy they will have to be, etc).
Hopefully as we continue to modify our proposal, we will be able to come up with suitable solutions for these specific problems as well as think of other improvements we can apply to the suit.
Me having fun with the leftover googly eyes ^__^ (Okay, it's kind of creepy)

Heidi and Annie's cute drawings!

UIST '10 Afterthought

So I went to UIST '10 in New York City in the beginning of October. It was such an experience! Since it was my first time attending an academic conference (especially a computer science one), I had no idea what to expect from it. To tell the truth, I honestly thought people wore suits and dress pants at conferences, so that's pretty all I packed into my suitcase (which ended up with me wearing my oversized Wellesley sweater pretty much the entire time).
Aside from that little stump, I enjoyed my weekend there very much! There were so many interesting and unique projects presented from all around the world.

These are some of the presentations that I especially liked:
Hands-On Math: A page-based multi-touch and pen desktop for technical work and problem solving
I was very inspired by the different methods of data organization that this application used. The minimizing a portion of the paper by pinching/folding it is a very cool technique! It made me think about all the text that needed to be scrolled on the GnomeSurfer. If we can implement a similar technique, such as have portions of the gene sequence be minimized in the beginning, and allowing the option to expand them, that that would save users a lot of time and effort scrolling through the entire sequence. (And if we can come up with an awesome animation for the expansion/minimizing of information like they did in this project, then that'd be even cooler). 
Their idea of implementing a pannable workspace is also very applicable to the GnomeSurfer (we actually had a very similar idea about providing additional workspace to users). 

Another presentation that I really enjoyed was Chronicle: Capture, Exploration, and Playback of Document Workflow Histories. So basically this is a tool that records, annotates, and categorizes the different actions done on an image in an image processing software. It records brush strokes, layer creations, color adjustments, and any other type of interactions done on the image. Anyone using the program can just review the entire history process. They can even customize the playback so it'll focus on the actions of a specific tool or an unique area on the image. 
As a below-average occasional user of Photoshop, this is exactly the type of tools that I need! Every time I try to replicate certain effects from online tutorials, I can never really capture the exact methodology used. So having a program that can play back actions on the images is just awesome. 
Being able to review the process of object creation is such an important feature in most applications these days, it's almost an expected feature. 

One of the poster and demo presentations gave me a lot of ideas regarding our superhero costume project. Pinstripe: eyes-free continuous input anywhere on interactive clothing does exactly what it says. The presenters sew sensors into the textile of the garment, which then enables wearers to apply different types of input. The differences in pressure and target area can all be detected and differentiated, which allows so much more freedom in terms of integrating different types of interaction with the garment.The entire time that I was listening to their presentation, I thought to myself: instead of using touch sensors on our Chameleon Suit, which only allows binary inputs, why can't we implement something similar to this technology? Then when the wearer of the Chameleon Suit doesn't even have to wear multiple sensors because the pinstripes can detect all the necessary types of input. 

Overall I saw some amazing projects and ideas during this conference, and I definitely took away a lot of useful knowledge from it. It was a very fun weekend!