Wearable Networks, Creating Hybrid Spaces with Soft Circuits.

Abstract. With the emergence of augmented eyeglasses, smart watches, and

health and performance monitoring wristbands, wearable computing has moved

to the cusp of commonplace consumer technology. These technologies continue

a trend already observed within mobile technologies, their exclusivity to the

wearer. Users often project an aura of disengagement from their surroundings.

To address this issue we developed the Lightning Bug, a light enhanced

garment. The Lightning Bug signifies an extension of our existing channels of

mobile communication into the directly perceivable realm, by deploying a

visible mode of interaction and exchange of information. In a semantic analysis,

we investigate the ability of the garment to represent information using different

light-patterns, and develop a mode of intuitively interpretable signaling.

Considering the established mental models concerning fashion, we further

develop a system of controlling the device based on natural behavioral patterns

by reading and utilizing the wearer’s nonverbal communicative clues.

 

Keywords: Photonic displays, smart fashion, embedded electronics, wearable

networks, hybrid space, applied semantics, interactive technology, Soft User

Interface, physical computing, Lightning Bug.

 

Authors: Raune Frankjær, Daniel Gilgen

Trier University of Applied Sciences, Department of Design, Trier, Germany.

Please note: This material is subjected to copyright by Springer International. The original publication can be accessed here: http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-07626-3_40

 

1 Introduction

“We wear privacy like a pressure suit. Given half the chance we’ll stuff the seat next

to ours in a café with raincoats and umbrellas, stare unremittingly at posters about

measles in a doctor’s waiting room… Anything but invite encounter; anything but get

involved…”

so commented Schluter and Lee in their book The R- Factor on post-modern society in

1993, long before the advent of mobile technologies. They were not alone in their

judgement, many other notable writers, such as Sennett, Baumann, Gehl and Fry, have

described this process [1][2][3][4].

Accordingly, the prevalent individualistic retreat into some personal bubble cannot be

solely attributed to mobile technology, but it is as much a sociological and cultural

issue, deeply rooted in modernism’s obsession with rationalization, separation and

segregation.

Nevertheless, current mobile devices do influence and aggravate this development.

The experience of reality is constantly mediated through a device and any sociability,

which has not been filtered by the set parameters of a social media service is rejected.

Each individual spins a personal cocoon, a digital comfort zone, with virtual

boundaries defined by online groups of contacts or friends, selected entertainment and

news feed subscriptions, all whilst being “out and about”, moving through the public

realm, physically present yet mentally absent. Social space and physical place drift

further and further apart and in contrast to or maybe more correctly, as an extension of

the modern era, where privatization implied a retreat in space, into the compact

privacy of the nuclear family home, where as mobile privatization, signifies a retreat

of space. Private space invades and displaces the public [5]. Nascent wearable

technologies continue this trend of exclusivity to the wearer, they invert on

themselves and allow their users to create huge amounts of data flow, that remain

utterly imperceptible to those with whom they share space. Aided by their devices,

users are paradoxically, increasingly interacting and exchanging ever growing

volumes of information in their social space, whilst simultaneously, through this very

exchange, increasingly hindered in direct personal engagement [6]. As a result, the

user often projects an aura of aloof detachment and disengagement from the

surrounding spatial environment.

In contrast De Souza e Silva speaks of Hybrid Space, where digital information does

not constitute an “other” space, but instead creates an overlay onto existing, physical

reality. De Souza argues that as technology is becoming more and more ubiquitous,

partly embedded in objects and buildings and partly carried as a constant companion

on or in close proximity to the body, differentiating between the digital and the

physical ceases to make much sense. Instead the concept of spatiality itself must be

redefined in order to encompass connected, social and mobile space [7]. Expanding

on this notion by including the immediate physical proximity of the user we aimed to

create everyday apparel with the ability to establish Wearable Networks and reunite

digital social space and physical place through electronically enhanced fully

embodied “human moments” [8].

 

2 Project Lightning Bug

Inspired by the sophisticated flash patterns deployed by some species of fireflies for

communication purposes, we created the Lightning Bug (LB), a light enhanced

garment, which can be characterized as an interactive and wearable user interface and

display, with networking capabilities.

The Lightning Bug provides an extension of our existing channels of mobile

communication into the directly perceivable realm, by deploying a visible mode of

interaction and exchange of information, facilitated through embedded luminous

materials.

The embedded technology is integral to the flexible substrate, so that the interface

can be comfortably worn on the body. We define this type of smart garment as a Soft

User Interface (SUI) [9]. As interfaces between wearers, networks and environments,

the garments do not invert on themselves, but are inclusive of the surrounding

environment. The ability of the garment to represent information using different lightpatterns,

intensities and animations, is utilized both by the wearer as well as the

surrounding environment to convey information. On the most basic level, the

garments recognize and exchange information with other collocated devices. An

unlimited number of such garments can influence each other to establish one or more

networks. Within a network, the garments operate on several levels of inclusivity,

unlike similar wearable devices, which tend to be exclusive to the wearers, such as

bracelets that unobtrusively vibrate when encountering a like minded person wearing

an identical device [10].

Neither is it a mere reactive display of perceived data, whether of its wearer or its

environment, as seen in projects like HearWear [11]. For prototyping purposes we

fashioned a total of nine knitted outfits with embedded light emitting fibre, however a

much larger number is possible. The knitted base structure was chosen due to the ease

of fitting the fibre, as well its everyday appearance and the easily attainable variety of

expressions. The LB has three distinct modes, operating on different levels of

intimacy, spatiality and chronicity.

 

2.1 Default mode

The default modus is triggered by donning the LBD. When in this mode the LBD

retrieves the heart beat of its wearer and translates it into a subtle harmonic light

pattern, attuned to the visual style and existing coloring of the knitwear. This slight

oscillating appearance of the garment does not interfere or overpower the initial

statement of the dress, but adds an intriguing and aesthetically pleasing second

dimension by displaying the inner state of the wearer in a subtle manner.

 

2.2 Active mode

When coming into close proximity of other like garments a different light pattern

emerges, indicating the garments to now be in “active mode”. These pre-set light

rhythmic animated patterns are individual to each garment and somewhat more

dynamic, but stay within an harmonic relation to the knitwear and thus represent an

extension of the expression of its design. To enter back into default mode the wearers

will have to physically remove themselves out of the other person’s personal space.

 

2.3 Interactive mode

If the wearers of the LB’s choose to dwell more than 30 seconds within close

proximity of each other the garments enter into “interactive mode” by a slow

exchange of patterns and hues with each other to so form a new rhythm based upon

the individual expression in a kind of visual duet. This visual duet can be expanded

upon with other wearers of the LB’s joining into the experience, creating something

which could be likened to a musical band/group or even a complete orchestra. The

experience lasts as long as near proximity is maintained, upon disengaging, it reverts

back into active mode, followed by the default.

 

2.4 Processing of spatial data

Photoresistors enable the knitwear to adjust its brightness to its environment, as the

glow would becometo overpowering in very low light situations, such as outdoors

during the night. However all available brightness is needed when in a lit

environment. Likewise it is envisioned that reaction times and functionality will be

modified with the spatial data. Certain spatial conditions, such as riding a subway or

an escalator, with little or no choice of proximity, would prevent LB’s from reacting

onto other collocated devices, other situations such as a crowded interior space, would

delay reaction times. Empty or sparsely populated outdoor spaces on the other hand,

would accelerate interaction.

 

2.5 Mode of Operation

The LB is controlled by non-verbal actions, which are an integral part of our

established daily patterns and are very simple. Wearing it, switches it on and the

active and interactive modes are activated by analyzing the proxemic and chronemic

behavior of the user.

 

2.6 Technical Details

Each LB is battery powered and fitted with an arduino micro controller and a low

range radio module. A pulse sensor registers the wearer’s biometric data and the

photoresistors register external parameters, such as light conditions of the immediate

spatial environment.

 

2.7 Research Methods

Coming from a design background our research methodology stems from creative

practice [12]. Meaning, we approached the project very much in a hands-on fashion.

First developing a rough concept (hypothesis), next seeking feedback, reworking the

concept based on the received feedback and lastly initiating the development of the

project, adjusting features as we went along. In preparation for the project, a small

preliminary qualitative study was conducted within the Trier University of Applied

Sciences. The study included post graduate students, as well as design lecturers in the

fields of Fashion Design, Human Computer Interface Design and Jewelry Design.

This was followed by a second qualitative user study, also at the Trier University of

Applied Sciences, with the first working prototypes. A large final study, within the

prototype development will be conducted in a public performative setting, which has

proved an effective research technique to gauge and observe underlying attitudes

toward the design of wearables [13].

 

3 Discussion / Preliminary Results

 

3.1 Fashion First / Overcoming Established Mental Models

In the initial user study, the participants were shown small samples of the proposed

knitwear and during this process the initial idea of using electroluminescent materials

was rejected. The majority of the questioned subjects clearly indicated that they

would not consider wearing such a garment in a day to day setting, due to its

staginess, and flashy or geeky appearance as well as the high – frequency sound

caused by the inverters. Subsequently a second material was developed, using optical

fibre, that could be more subtly integrated into the knitwear with a more pleasant and

customizable color range. In addition this material provided a greater control over the

appearance of the garments and we were able to integrate the fibre as a natural part of

the individual knitwear designs as opposed to a high-tech add on.

The inconvenience experienced in this design was the need for an additional

source of light to illuminate the fibre, adding to the bulkiness and electronic

components being carried. However developments in the area of photonic textiles are

extremely promising and there are commercial products available that could more

elegantly be deployed in further iterations of the LB than our prototype construction.

[14][15].

El_Wire_1st Prototype

Fig. 1.0 The EL-Wire in the first prototype is too dominant in the garment.

Due to the familiarity of knitwear, integrating the fibre as a natural part, proved to be

challenging. Knitwear has a documented history dating back to 3BC, and as such

carries with it established mental models about what it is and what it can do. Namely

to provide warmth and, as a fashion item, to convey a certain style. Although this is

true about any type of clothing, knitwear especially is associated as being self-made,

low-tech, and regarded as a rather conservative and old-fashioned, or even nonfashionable

garment.

In order to overcome this perceptional hurdle, we strove to integrate the technology

into the garments as subtly as possible, with the initial functionality leaning

aesthetically, into the design of the garments, by using color harmonies and patterns

derived directly from the yarn used in the knitwear. Further the integration of the light

emitting fibre was worked to seamlessly blend with the structure of the knit. Hence,

we were able to create a garment which does not scream ‘tech’, but conveys a subtle

impression of apparel that has been beautified and enhanced. The integrated

technology allows for a faint personal approach in that the heart rate of the wearer is

used as the rhythmical signal controlling the emitted light signals. This extends on the

concept within fashion, of clothing acting as “second skin”, or interface of the self to

the world. The biometric data is only shown when the wearer is not within the

personal space of others. This development away from the first concept arose out of

reactions of the interviewees in the preliminary study, who indicated feelings of

discomfort to openly show their physiological reaction to others. As a strategy we

chose to develop a visual cue more integrated into the visual expression of the

garment to signal interest, determined by established proxemic and chronemic

conventions, without disclosing the exact impact.

detail_lit

Fig. 2.0 Fitted optical fibre detail on.

detail_noLight

Fig. 2.1 Fitted optical fibre detail off.

 

3.2 Complexity and Simplicity in wearable interface design

Following the second user study, we eliminated our initial idea of mobile phone

connectivity and app-based configuration because having to configure the item was

perceived more as a hurdle, than a desired feature. The phone connectivity did not

truly add any value for the user, who expressed interest in revealing a different kind

of content integral to the LB, not in wearing an additional “screen”. One user

expressed: “just another potential advertising platform”, and “the choice between

wearing a black sweater and the LB was all the configuration needed.”

We subsequently decided on a more direct approach, resulting in a much less complex

design. In addition to the mobile phone connectivity and personal profile, we further

removed any on/off settings. The LB is now completely controlled by the actions of

its wearer. Wearing the garment is an act of acceptance and it switches on

automatically. Likewise the different reactive and active modes are controlled purely

by the spatial proximity to others. If the user does not wish for interaction he or she

must remove him/herself from the situation. The reduction in functionality and

expression created a much clearer message in the design. Perceived as being stylish

and dynamic the LB was seen as a novel and interesting type of fashion with added

dynamic properties, rather than being yet another electronic gadget made to fit into or

onto a garment. This approach in many ways heightened the interest in and

acceptance of the garment.

 

3.3 Complexity and Simplicity in wearable interface design

Following the second user study, we eliminated our initial idea of mobile phone

connectivity and app-based configuration because having to configure the item was

perceived more as a hurdle, than a desired feature. The phone connectivity did not

truly add any value for the user, who expressed interest in revealing a different kind

of content integral to the LB, not in wearing an additional “screen”. One user

expressed: “just another potential advertising platform”, and “the choice between

wearing a black sweater and the LB was all the configuration needed.”

We subsequently decided on a more direct approach, resulting in a much less complex

design. In addition to the mobile phone connectivity and personal profile, we further

removed any on/off settings. The LB is now completely controlled by the actions of

its wearer. Wearing the garment is an act of acceptance and it switches on

automatically. Likewise the different reactive and active modes are controlled purely

by the spatial proximity to others. If the user does not wish for interaction he or she

must remove him/herself from the situation. The reduction in functionality and

expression created a much clearer message in the design. Perceived as being stylish

and dynamic the LB was seen as a novel and interesting type of fashion with added

dynamic properties, rather than being yet another electronic gadget made to fit into or

onto a garment. This approach in many ways heightened the interest in and

acceptance of the garment.

 

3.4 Social Interaction

At this stage of the project our main concern lies with the social interaction between

the different dress wearers. How it is extended by this new channel of information and

whether light, luminous forms and animated light can be a feasible mean of

communication within wearable computing.

Previous experiments by the authors show that the wearer tends to disappear behind

the glowing signage. This due to both the novelty value and also to the way the

information is presented. One important design aspect we could isolate here was that

when using luminous materials intended for everyday wear it is important to keep it

peripheral and place it away from the face as this otherwise tends to retreat into the

shadows. In addition, it was perceived to be difficult to maintain a conversation with

the wearer due to the distraction caused by the light and the difficulty with reading

facial expressions.

The trials within the university proved to create a heightened and more easy social

interaction between the participants. However, as the participating group was very

small, as well as physically concentrated, it will be important to conduct a bigger

study with a larger number and more dispersed LB’s.

One feature which was received very positively amongst the participants was the very

natural and intuitive interaction, not requiring the learning of any additional skills.

The LB is turned on when worn, reacts when within close proximity to others and

engages when that closeness is maintained. In this way the interaction is modeled to

mimic natural human behavioral patterns. The experience of the interaction between

the dress lasts as long as the near proximity is held. Upon disengaging it briefly

reverts back into the personal pattern, then only the default is displayed.

In this way the LB imitates already established customs. For example, it is typical

human behavior to stay for a prolonged period of time within the proximity of another

human with whom it wishes to establish contact.

Negative feedback was received about the initial proposal of displaying intimate

personal data through the light patterns when entering personal space of others.

The first question that arises is whether there is a demand for this kind of device to

enhance the already established modes of human interaction. Our research clearly

shows there is, especially as the new dominance of mobile devices changes the way

we communicate with each other. It could even be claimed that nonverbal

communication has become more important than it was before. For example, this can

be seen through the prominence of text based communication such as sms and email,

which has sparked a whole new methodology for people to convey emotions, with the

use of smileys. Similarly, as the where and when of communication becomes

increasingly liberated from the physical environment, chronemics and proxemics gain

increasing importance as it signifies choices made by the user as opposed to

unavoidable circumstances [16].

detailZopf

Fig. 3.0 The optical fibre fitted to follow the ropestructure of the knitwear.

detail_blue

Fig. 3.1. The optical fibre fitted to the sub structure of the knitwear.

 

3.5 Applied semantics of light patterns and colors in the Lightning Bug

Following the second user study, we eliminated our initial idea of mobile phone

connectivity and app-based configuration because having to configure the item was

perceived more as a hurdle, than a desired feature. The phone connectivity did not

truly add any value for the user, who expressed interest in revealing a different kind

of content integral to the LB, not in wearing an additional “screen”. One user

expressed: “just another potential advertising platform”, and “the choice between

wearing a black sweater and the LB was all the configuration needed.”

We subsequently decided on a more direct approach, resulting in a much less complex

design. In addition to the mobile phone connectivity and personal profile, we further

removed any on/off settings. The LB is now completely controlled by the actions of

its wearer. Wearing the garment is an act of acceptance and it switches on

automatically. Likewise the different reactive and active modes are controlled purely

by the spatial proximity to others. If the user does not wish for interaction he or she

must remove him/herself from the situation. The reduction in functionality and

expression created a much clearer message in the design. Perceived as being stylish

and dynamic the LB was seen as a novel and interesting type of fashion with added

dynamic properties, rather than being yet another electronic gadget made to fit into or

onto a garment. This approach in many ways heightened the interest in and

acceptance of the garment.

 

3.6 Acceptance of the proposed technology

The embedded digital functionality enhances communication between strangers when

they meet, in that it adds an element of surprise and excitement, without hindering the

natural gestural communication. Wearing and controlling the garment is extremely

intuitive as it builds on existing and established patterns of behavior. As such the

wearer does not have to specifically “do” anything when wearing the LB. The

expression of the technology within the dress is subtle enough to be pleasant in day to

day situations, whilst maintaining a novel and fashionable statement. Detriments to

the garments practicality are more of a technical nature, i.e. the bulkiness of the

required hardware and the battery life. With the rapid development in alternative

energy harvesting methods in recent years, such as photovoltaic, kinetic and induction

charging methods, etc as well as the advent of new photonic fabrics, we do anticipate

these issues will be successfully resolved.

 

4 Discussion and Conclusion / Further work

Lightning Bug (LB) investigates the possibility of SUI’s as a design approach to

developing a wearable luminous display with the aim of counteracting the historical,

cultural, social and technological development towards the observed increasing

detachment of the users of mobile technologies from their physical environment. The

LB addresses this issue, in that it challenges the established social structures and

enhances interpersonal communication. In contrast to the usual wearable and mobile

technologies the LB does not invert on itself, but is inclusive of its surroundings. It

becomes an interface between its wearer, networks and the occupied environment. It

changes the conventional handling of information and provides a means to modulate

social interactions by adding an element of curiosity and playfulness to everyday

interactions.

There is a general willingness to accept new fashions, yet these are expected to be

reasonably uncomplicated to wear and not demand any significant relearning.

Accordingly, augmented and interactive clothing aimed at everyday wear and

general user acceptance needs to agree with established mental models. The proposed

technology and interface must be approachable and intuitively interpretable. This can

be achieved by reducing the interaction to be an integral part of already existing

behavioral patterns, that does not demand additional attentional effort, as well

reducing symbolic representations and focusing on indexical and iconic signs. The

light emitting materials must be discreetly integrated to form a convincing unit, where

the emissions emphasize the expression of the garment and do not obscure the wearer

behind glowing signage.

This is a work in progress and the main focus has been on establishing the

fundamental requirements to develop an agreeable and fashionable item, whilst

seamlessly integrating the interactive technology. The research is taking place within

the university and study groups have been correspondingly small and inclusive. The

next step we will be to conduct a large study at a public event with over 30.000

visitors, over six days. The large amount of potential subjects pose particular

challenges to the set-up of the study. The number of personal interviews would be

around an estimated 200 – 250 from a broad spectrum of nationalities and individual

backgrounds.

Upon evaluation of the results we will enter the next phase of development. We

will concentrate on expanding the possibilities of the natural interaction of the SUI by

adding additional sensors, which will be able to assist in reading nonverbal

communicative clues, so that the LB can react accordingly to the interactants’ interests

within the LB network.

 

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Acknowledgements. Project Lightning Bug was developed as part of an

interdisciplinary research project between the Dept. of Fashion Design and the Dept.

Of Intermedia Design at the Trier University of Applied Sciences, with support from

the Media and Film Grant of Rhineland-Palatinate (Medienförderung).