OCAD Wearable Tech in Toronto Star today

OCAD gives technology an artistic spin; School’s design students merge fashion with circuitry to encourage social interaction

Page X4 under "Courses and Careers"

Toronto Star
Thu Mar 24 2011
Page: X4
Section: Feature
Byline: Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew Toronto Star

Fashion collides with technology in a classroom on the third floor of OCAD University.

Students in professor Kate Hartman’s advanced wearable technology class are gathered around a big table in the middle of the room, discussing their “social bodies” projects. The assignment: incorporate technology into a product or garment in a way that will bring about a social interaction.

The conversation is fluid, shifting in a moment from fashion and pop culture trends to which fabrics and materials are most conducive to circuitry and programming.

Further confusing the discussion is the tug-of-war between the artistic and the commercial.

Erin Lewis, an integrated media student, is talking about her project, which she has called “stock market lingerie.” It’s a brassiere that she has wired to give stock market updates as the clasps are undone.

People keep asking where she would like to sell it, Lewis tells the class, and that puzzles her. “It’s an art piece. It’s not something you’re going to find on the shelves at Wal-Mart,” she says, and the class responds with howls of laughter.

Sometimes it’s very clear whether a project is meant to be artistic or commercial, Hartman says. “Sometimes that ambiguity is fun to play with. But the trouble is that some people may not go there with you.”

Industrial design student Ken Leung is talking about a project he’s called “The Soundtrack of Their Life.” It’s two pendants, each equipped with galvanic skin response sensors to measure the changing moods of the two people wearing them.

Each pendant sends a stream of data, which is transformed into music when it reaches the other person’s pendant – low steady tones when the first person is calm, and high-pitched notes when the person is intensely happy, excited or anxious.

Leung concedes that it may not be an entirely accurate way to measure moods, but the point is to foster understanding between the two users.

The idea lights a spark in class. Students respond with questions and suggestions: Where is the best place to put the sensors? Who would use this technology; couples or mothers and babies?

Wearable technology is the science and art of incorporating technology into clothing and wearable products. It explores the relationship between the human body, information, fashion and the gadgets that we love.

Although still in its early days, this field is being pulled into the future as technology becomes more mobile, discreet and powerful. Today, most applications are found in health care, athletics, and the military. At OCAD, students in the introductory class learn the nuts and bolts of technology – from how to work with micro-controllers, sensors and other devices to programming and how to incorporate devices into clothing using conductive fabrics and materials.

At the advanced level, students develop, experiment with, and produce their own projects.

Undergraduate students at OCAD can get a minor in wearable technology. Students come from industrial design, studio arts and other disciplines, Hartman says.

“It makes for an interesting conversation. Students have to challenge their own assumptions because they’re dealing with peers who come from a variety of perspectives. It really makes them think about what they’re doing.”

Readings in the course range from technical how-to guides that cover the latest technology and programming to industry journals and pop-culture perspectives on technology and fashion.

Students are evaluated on how well they develop and articulate their own ideas, as well as the design and technical success of their projects.

“Some students are very pragmatic and some are exploring artistic expression,” Hartman says. “These are very creative thinkers. They tend to go outside the box immediately.”

© 2011 Torstar Corporation

Working with Bluetooth

The Bluetooth Mate Gold and Bluetooth Mate Silver are handy wireless modules that can plug directly into your Lilypad Arduino or Arduino Mini Pro. While they are rather pricey, they save you the trouble of configuring the radio, wiring up extra components, and they can connect to any other device that is bluetooth enabled such as a laptop or smart phone. For most applications the Silver will do just fine (it’s range is 330′) and it is significantly cheaper than the Gold.

To get started, this is a very helpful tutorial:

ITP/NYU Tutorial

For the last step, I recommend using this slightly altered version of the code which displays the sensor value in the bottom of the Processing window and maps the light level to the brightness of the rectangle. Simple tweak, but makes the changes in sensor value more apparent:

//Processing code from ITP Bluetooth Tutorial
//modified by Kate Hartman 3.17.11

import processing.serial.*;

Serial myPort;  // Create object from Serial class
int val;      // Data received from the serial port

void setup()
size(200, 200);
println(Serial.list());  //list all the available serial ports
//replace the 8 in the next line with your serial port number from the list above.
String portName = Serial.list()[8]; //My device is using “port 8” on my laptop
myPort = new Serial(this, portName, 115200); //115200 is the data rate associated with this Bluetooth module

void draw()
if ( myPort.available() > 0) {  // If data is available,
String myString = myPort.readStringUntil(‘\n’);  //reads serial port until end of line
if (myString != null) { //checks if myString is null
myString = trim(myString);
val = int(myString);  //converts string to integer
background(255);             // Set background to white
/*if (val < 150) {              // If the serial value is 0,
fill(0);                   // set fill to black
else {                       // If the serial value is not 0,
fill(204);                 // set fill to light gray
fill(val); //set the color according to the sensor value
rect(50, 50, 100, 100);

For getting started with Processing, there’s actually a great book called “Getting Started with Processing”, which is available at Creatron and on Amazon. The examples from it are included in the Example menu in the Processing program.

You can find some other notes on the Bluetooth modules here:

Finally, the most important thing to remember when adapting a piece of code to work with these modules is CHECK YOUR BAUD RATE. It must be set to 115200 unless you want to reconfigure the radio. This must be changed in both your Arduino and Processing code.

Yay wireless!

bluetooth lab session NEXT WEEK

Hey gang,

If anyone is using Bluetooth for their final projectable, our fearless leader Kate said she would be overjoyed to have a lab session outside of class time to show us the [wireless] ropes.

Please comment when you’d be free next week to get together.

Tuesday before class or any time on Thursday before 6:30pm works for me.

Announcement: I would like to order some neoprene (edit: also fibre optics)

hey gang, I’d like to place an order for some neoprene and some velostat (two different companies). Anyone interested in placing an order together? lemme knows.

Also, fibre optics, if anyone wants to share shipping:


Random Bits 1.18.11

Creatron has started selling 9 different colors of electroluminescent (EL) wire and 3V inverters. With these inverters you can power two strands off of a CR2032 coin cell battery or even an Arduino digital pin. Check out Sparkfun’s video about EL wire: 

Sparkfun has started carrying an E-Paper display, similar to what you might see in a Kindle or other e-readers. Hopefully it will make its way to Toronto soon!

Call For Artistic Proposals And Submissions

DEADLINE: Deadline: January 25th, 2011

Open call: Undergraduate and Graduate student artists working in and responding to forms of media.

XPACE/IMAGES festival is seeking proposals from student artists working in and with media art. The term “media art” is deliberately broad and elusive, lacking commitment, but suggesting an alliance with technology, communication, time-based, or new media.  Proposals should consider the space the artwork occupies (at a physical, psychic and phenomenal level), the historical referents (in the short but rich history of media artworks) and the ability to disrupt or repair the audience’s relationship to the artwork. Proposals are encouraged to be innovative and critical.

Examples may include, but are not limited to:

  • –       a reference/reverence for the history of media artwork
  • –       web-based or internet art
  • –       geo-mapping, bio-mapping, emotional mapping
  • –       performance video, live performance
  • –       animation
  • –       interactive art
  • –       robotics, haptic technology
  • –       biotechnology
  • –       cyborgology
  • –       post-human, posthumanism

Electronic submissions only can be sent to: visser.lisa@gmail.com
Deadline: January 25th, 2011

Include in your submission:

  • images of the proposed work (or relevant work) or a link to a website and/or youtube/vimeo – MAXIMUM of 6 images (72dpi @ 768 x 1024)
  • description of the proposed work, including physical qualities, spatial and hanging needs, technical requirements, etc (max. 150 words)
  • brief artist statement and biography  (max. 200 words)

For additional information contact the curator of the project Lisa Visser: visser.lisa@gmail.com

And finally, a new book that just came out:

Covered today in class:

Arduino Workshop!

This Monday! 7pm! Hacklab TO is doing an arduino workshop!  This is the website! http://hacklab.to/ !  Exclamation!!!

What’s Happening


Upcoming in Toronto

Upcoming Deadlines

Excellent wearables resource list (thanks Erin!):

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