Final wearable: 1UP

1UP is a small clip-on device that tracks your physical activity throughout the day. It is designed around the fundamental tenet that most people don't want to quantify themselves to obtain data, they want to know what they should do to be healthy.

1UP is a simple indicator of activity through the use of a Bluetooth LE link to your gyroscope/accelerometer-enabled mobile device. At any given time it reports one of three states:

  1. Low activitity level (flashing blue arrow only)
  2. You've met your daily activity average (alternating blue and green arrows)
  3. You are well over your daily activity average (flashing green arrow only)

With the generous assistance of Mr. Fletcher Bach, I etched my first custom circuit. It has two LEDs and two 220 Ω resistors. I surface mounted the components for a thinner profile. There are also three holes for pins to connect to the TinyDuino that I used as the microcontroller.

After cutting the excess wafer, I soldered the TinyDuino to the board. It didn't work at first because I had put both LEDs backwards, but after troubleshooting this it works perfectly.

The enclosure is a small acrylic box with a cover of two halves of acrylic sandwiching a strip of wood.

Key challenges encountered:
  • Form factor (difficult to make device as thin as I had wanted)
  • Charging/power (could not figure out a good way to make the battery removable)
  • Bluetooth integration (the development of the BLE link was far too ambitious for only a few weeks)
  • How difficult it really is to design a wearable deice that not only works but is fashionable/aesthetically pleasing
After creating this device, I finally understand why the concept of wearables has been so slow to take off. It's an incredibly hard design and development process that requires knowledge in several very different fields. I now have more of a respect for why "failed" wearables fail.

Final: 1UP wearable activity monitor

My final project is a small wearable device that encourages physical activity by monitoring the number of steps you've taken during the day and abstracting this information into either an "upvote" or "downvote," similar to the voting apparatus used on Reddit.

 If the green arrow is lit, your physical activity is trending positively, and if the red arrow is lit, you need to get some exercise. The device will use your daily average number of steps to determine whether you should be upvoted or downvoted.

The biggest technical challenge is that I have been unable to obtain the Blend Micro or a Bluetooth LE TinyShield, as one is out of stock and the other takes weeks to ship. Even if I had ordered several weeks ago, it would have only arrived next week. I am exploring alternatively options, including using a TinyDuino to demo the device as if it was paired with my iPhone.

Today before class I am going to fabricate the acrylic pieces, and mock up the other components to get a sense of its size.


For my final wearable, I am considering a simple display of my daily steps. My phone is constantly tracking my steps through an internal pedometer + accelerometer. But I have no easy way of sharing the information about my activity with anyone in public, besides showing them the screen of my Health app. Instead, it would be nice to have a meter displayed publicly on my body so that anyone could be aware of my physical activity that day.

I imagine a simple LED meter for this prototype, perhaps ranging from blue (low activity) to red (high activity). The meter would be connected to a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) device, possibly the Blend Micro, which in turn would interface with my iPhone in order to read my step data using the HealthKit API provided by Apple.

Having such a device would eliminate my need to check my Health app several times a day to monitor my activity level, but it would also allow my activity to generate a conversation with anyone who noticed it. Yesterday I walked 8.89 miles in the course of various errands and travel to and from school. I wanted to bring it up but it felt a little braggy. And maybe this wearable would be braggy as well, but I think it could provide a way to reinforce healthy behavior while sharing something about my life with others in a passive way.

The Uncrosser

In order to determine a way to make people in close proximity more intimate, I imagined a social situation in which nonverbal communication would be of great importance: a party, crowded with people who you both like and dislike. I also used The Nonverbal Dictionary to refresh my familiarity with the nonverbal methods I learned in Speech and Debate class in high school.

The arm-cross is a classic nonverbal cue that is "unconsciously used to alleviate anxiety and social stress." A study on college students even found that "women use open arm positions with men they like, but cross-arms with men they dislike." The study concluded that men show no difference in this regard, but I beg to differ, as I know I cross my arms when I'm talking to people I dislike.

Since the goal of this week's project was to increase intimacy, it would make sense that a reduction in arm crossing could facilitate more intimacy. My design prototype is a shirt with a pressure sensor band underneath the fabric across the chest, which would detect the presence of the wearer's arms in a crossed position.

When pressure is detected, a light shock is applied to the wearer's arms, causing them to immediately release their standoffish posture. A few times of this shock therapy is all that's required for a more intimate social experience. The results can be seen below:

A new model for healthcare

I enjoyed this week's article, "Reframing health to embrace design of our own well-being".  It is a call to action for the redesign of every aspect of the healthcare system to allow those who we today call patients to become tomorrow's users of a participatorily-designed structure focused on true well-being, not just being free of disease. Or in the words of the the World Health Organization, health is "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being."

I agree that we need to empower people to take control of their own healthcare. There is a recognizable trend in this direction that I believe started with the rise of the Web – simply having access to more information turned a lot of people off to the traditional model and on to the DIY, holistic side of things. There are merits to both strategies, of course, but we need a merger of the two to really get the most advantage.

The article is also inspiring because it brings the concepts of good design to an area which might not seem hospitable to design practice. Though we usually think of good design in the form of objects or structures, design thinking applies to pretty much every construct in the world, tangible or otherwise. This is why Dubberly's brief introductory paragraph is so inspiring – "wicked problems can be 'solved' only by reframing, by providing a new way of understanding."

PanHandler - a Tone.js plugin

For my midterm I developed PanHandler, a Tone.js plugin that pans an arbitrary number of inputs in interesting, random ways. To showcase its abilities I built a simple visualization which can be controlled with the keyboard.

I love music that takes advantage of aural space so I wanted to create a utensil for panning multiple inputs at the same time. PanHandler has two main functions that handle panning:

  • shuffle() - randomizes the pans across the aural space (e.g. a random value between 0 and 1)
  • flip() - reverses the pans and their respective magnitudes across the aural space (e.g. 0.9 becomes 0.1, 0.6 becomes 0.4, etc.)
Additionally, each of these methods can take an argument specifying the time to ramp the pan (e.g. shuffle(1) would randomize the pans of all of the inputs over 1 second).

In order to visualize the inputs moving across the aural space, I created grayscale bars for each one (in the demo there are four inputs, so there are four bars). These represent each distinct sound/note. As you use PanHandler to manipulate the pans, you can simultaneously see and hear the movement of the sound.

PanHandler code: GitHub

Final project: GSM paper fortune teller

Jia, Jason, and I created a GSM paper fortune teller that sends you a text message containing a fortune. Inspired by grade school fortune telling mechanisms, this project uses a GSM module, and Arduino, and conductive paint to put a new twist on a classic form.

Jia and Jason handled most of the fabrication, while I wrote most of the code to handle the GSM module's interaction with the Arduino. We used a software serial connection to communicate with the module, and used a series of basic commands to initiate the sending of an SMS message when one of the black symbols is squeezed by the user's fingers.

One of the key things to remember is to send the AT+CMGF=1 command anytime the GSM module has restarted. This command sets the module's SMS mode to text, allowing the subsequent command to send the message, AT+CMGS, to function properly. If you don't do this, you will be unable to send messages at all.

Black Mirror

This week I created a prototype for a meditative watch that lets you check in with yourself periodically throughout the day. The idea came from meditative techniques involving grounding yourself, either physically or mentally. The wearer can look into the mirrored surface and find their own face, thereby causing a moment of concentration that could ultimately lead to reduced stress and anxiety.

The mirror does not induce vanity because it's focal length and dark color prevent you from checking yourself out in the traditional sense. It's designed for checking in, not checking out. The concept also draws heavily from the television show Black Mirror; however, because this device is not digital, it counters the dystopian future portrayed in the show, using a "black mirror" for good.

Self and identity

This week's readings all dealt with the notion of selfhood, from very different perspectives. The first highlighted the fact that we can be uniquely identified simply by wearing an item of mass-produced clothing that's been worn down based on our body and activity. The second discussed living forever in the context of transferring the human brain to a surrogate. The third showed that virtual and augmented reality can make us question our own concept of selfhood.

My strongest response came from the second article. I have been a follower of Kurzweil for a few years now, and have read his latest book How to Create a Mind which discusses the possibilities of whole brain emulation, storage, and access. I am convinced after reading this book that it will definitely be possible in the future to release ourselves from our biological "homes." Everyone knows by now that the brain is a massively-parallel processor. It works much slower than the average computer but its simultaneity of processing achieves a far higher computational output. Eventually our technology will progress to meet this demand, and then we will have the serious conversation about what to do with our bodies.

I think the third article ties into the exact spot where the second leaves off. If we're able to transplant/copy/emulate our brains for use with a virtual avatar, we will have essentially jumped into the virtual realm, never to return. And as virtual reality gets more "real" by the year, it seems logical to predict that we could be fully immersed in an alternative reality that is imperceptibly different than our current physical reality.

I don't think there's any question that this will happen, but we need to decide soon what kind of future we want for ourselves, and how to achieve it.


This week's wearable exploration centered on sound and hearing. I have always been fascinated with the idea of controlling our personal aural environments. There are a lot of sounds in the world that are not only annoying, but damaging to our ears. Most of the time you have no choice but to plug your ears with your fingers or just simply grimace through it.

To deal with this problem, I designed a hood with a built-in decibel meter. An LED attached to the hood illuminates when the sound around you reaches an unsafe level, urging you to put your hood up. The hood itself is designed with an internal air pocket to reduce the amount of sound vibration that reachers your ears.

Ideally the hood would be made out of a lightweight, breathable fabric, so that it's main focus is not to keep you warm, but to block sound. The LED could be improved by locating it in a more obvious location, or incorporating light into a different area of the garment.

Final project ideas

My group and I discussed three possibilities for our final project. The first is a general GPS tracker to learn more about the transit infrastructure in New York. We could develop a simple GPS module and move through the city with it, gathering location data that could then be visualized on a map. Another possibility is developing a low-cost, throw-away version in order to track things that we cannot physical be a part of.

The second idea is a randomized messaging system, wherein the user "rolls dice" or somehow uses probability to send a message to another person. If the messages were all pre-established, it could be a fun way to add unpredictability to the social text message scene.

The third idea is a goTenna-inspired project in which we try to create a way for two people to communicate off of the commercial networks. This one is less developed and would require significant hardware skills, which is why it might not be best suited to two-week timeline.

Staying in touch

I really loved the article Losing Our Touch and its historical account of the way human senses were perceived and valued in the time of Plato and Aristotle. I think we are at a similar Platonic moment in history where we are now very much obsessed with visual experiences, especially in our digital devices. However, I believe the next step for us, as was the case in ancient history, is a rekindling of real touch experiences.

My opinion is that Aristotle's argument in favor of touch as the most intimate sense couldn't be more true. There is a certain immediacy associated with touch that cannot be attained through any other sense. As we have now been using touch screens for almost a decade, we are beginning to feel the glass beneath our fingers, and we desire something more fulfilling.

Wearables do offer so much in this regard. They are on or close to our bodies, they can be used to detect truths about our bodies, and they are full of contextual cues, emotion, and cultural associations that give them great potential to expand the boundaries of what interfaces can be.

Wearable tel-empathy

I created a prototype of a wearable device that lets the wearer receive real feelings from another person, in their chest and gut. I was inspired by how often we have strong feeling that originate in that region of the body and yet we have no real way to convey them except through words or actions. This device would, for better or worse, duplicate the feelings experience by another person through transfer of exact muscle contractions, synapses, and neurons.

The device is about 6.5" x 4.5" and fits securely on the chest. The top most section is thinner and should fit in the concavity near the sternum. It's very thin and almost imperceptible to the wearer. It attaches to the body using a special adhesive that stick to skin but does not cause irritation. The skeleton of the device is a series of components that actuate neurons in the corresponding region of the chest and stomach.

Here is the first version of the prototype. It is slightly smaller than what I had envisioned because I could only find a 4-pack soda ring instead of a 6-pack. Ideally there would be holes in it to increase its breathability and decreased its footprint on the body.

Photo journal

I used to work in film and television production so whenever I see a shoot I get a little misty. It's the kind of thing where you forget the bad parts, e.g. the 14-hour days and the low pay, and you remember the camaraderie, that magic of making a film, and the memories that only come from spending hours on end with people, some who you barely know, who turn into good friends. I can't help identifying with this and I always feel the need to share it.

This wall is on West 4th Street opposite Washington Square Park. I have walked that block more than a few times and never noticed it, but it is one of the most ornate facades I've seen in the city. If I never noticed it, I figured other people may not have, so that's why I felt it was worth sharing.

I found this pin in the lobby of Bobst Library, as I was eating a breakfast sandwich on one of the benches. I think it is Islamic in some way, though I don't think it's the flag of a specific country (or at least I couldn't find the country it represents). It was very shiny and I left on the bench for someone else to find and/or claim. I probably shared this photo because I don't know that much about Islam and finding this flag pin reminded me of that somehow.

This pup is a temporary companion of mine, and this face was too precious not to capture. I think there is a gamesmanship related to cute pet photos; everyone wants to take the end-all cute photo but it is in fact impossible. Just when you think you've seen the cutest possible photo, along comes one that is cuter, and the cycle continues. This was my most recent contribution to that cycle.

I love this photo and was very eager to share it because it's a perspective not often seen (and isn't that what we all strive for in our photo sharing?). I was on the E train and the door to the driver's compartment was open. I was able to snap a photo of the interior of this compartment, which is not normally in public view. As a transit fanatic, I appreciate this because I'm always looking to better understand how the systems work.

Useful applications of custom cellular networks

Rolling your own cellular network would be really useful for custom applications involving sensor arrays out in the world. I have worked on a few noise mapping projects and having sensors communicate to each other while placed out in the world is usually difficult. Controlling the full GSM network would mean that you could potentially customize the way that your sensors communication with each other and with the base station. This could improve the efficiency of data collection.

My series of projects called Sonome were originally envisioned as standalone sensor modules that could either connect to the Internet using cellular data or run through wireless radios back to a base station that had an Internet connection. I think a custom GSM setup would be really great, except for the large startup budget necessary. I thought using XBees was expensive but the lowest-cost GSM base stations are around $700. However, for a project with a larger budget, I would definitely consider it.

Simmel on fashion

Georg Simmel's treatise on fashion as a social system was fascinating for its comprehensive understanding of the various mechanisms that create the dynamic flow between the elite and the mass, rooted in imitation. Simmel's definition of imitation is wonderful:
"We might define it as the child of thought and thoughtlessness. It affords the pregnant possibility of continually extending the greatest creations of the human spirit, without the aid of the forces which were originally the very condition of their birth."
It is this ability to access an original invention that intrigues me about fashion, or any other meme for that matter; that we can appropriate and disseminate an idea without needing to start from scratch. Fashion or memes take hold and move through whatever medium in which they live.

On the other hand, it makes me sad that much of the imitative dynamic is rooted in class hierarchy. Fashion as a means of expression is a pure endeavor, but the truth of Simmel's analysis is that without this hierarchy there can be no fashion as we know it. His example of 14th-century Venetian nobles illustrates this point; they dressed in a way to maintain a low profile, lest they be discovered by the populace at large. This, however, ran contrary to the "visible differentiation from the lower classes" necessary for the propagation of fashion.

Process music

I used SuperLooper to create three compositions. In SuperLooper you can click around the screen to make sound, but you can also use the top row keys (Q, W, E, R, T, Y, U, I, O, and P). I decided to compose a few songs using words made from the letters in the top row keys, typed sequentially, while retaining control of syncopation and timing, for all instruments. I found it interesting to mix the normal operation of a computer keyboard with the musical triggers of this web app. It gives each respective word a unique melody and mood.

T-O-R-T-U-R-E – listen
This composition is very upbeat and almost showtunesy, which is quite ironic given the word which inspired its creation. This track adds each instrument separately to build the composition, whereas the others just jump right into a full ensemble.

P-O-W-E-R – listen
This composition is a bit on the dark side. A minor key is at work, along with some repetitive tones due to holding down some keys for longer than normal. I like this one because it does feel like "power" to me, albeit in a darker sense.

P-R-E-T-T-Y – listen
This composition is melancholy, and its hook is kind of Top 40-ish. It doesn't scream "pretty," although maybe in a longing way, of something beautiful that is now lost.

Clothing photojournal

After documenting what I wore for (almost) a week, it became clear that I like the color gray. I already knew that I liked it, but the evidence is even more damning. To sum up my clothing preferences, I like things that are comfortable, that could be considered moderately stylish, that have NO brand markings, and that are easily interchangeable so that I don't have to spend a lot of time picking out an outfit. I wear a lot of the same clothes every week, which are a small fraction of what's in my closet. I should really clean it out.

Saturday – I did not leave the house but was extremely productive. I wore one of my favorite t-shirts; I have three of the same kind but in different colors. They fit extremely well, are soft, have a very subtle color pattern not unlike Funfetti® cake, and have a front pocket which I enjoy even though I rarely use it. My black jeans are Levi's 510. They are a bit rougher material than my other jeans but they fit the best out of any. My slippers are Uniqlo and they keep my feet warm in the apartment.

Sunday – Shirt is Uniqlo HEATTECH, pants are also Levi 510 but not really denim, more of a canvas material. I love both of these items, they are very soft and comfortable. The HEATTECH shirt is warmer than the average undershirt which is nice on cold days. The pants are the softest jeans I have, I think because they are very worn (they used to be a lot rougher material). They are also slightly too short for regular shoes so I only wear them out with boots. Or at home when it doesn't matter.

Tuesday – When I go to school, I usually wear a button-down shirt. This one is Hawkings McGill (Urban Outfitters), one of my favorite shirts because it goes with anything and fits well. The pants are my black Levi's and my boots are Clarks. I only wear one pair of shoes outside of my home, these are them. They are dark brown which means they go with mostly anything.

Wednesday – This is my all-time favorite shirt. It's a Uniqlo flannel and it is so soft. Often I will wear it at home when lounging around just because it's so soft. The pants are my canvas Levi's.

Thursday – This is a new favorite outfit of mine. Uniqlo chambray shirt, Uniqlo HEATTECH long sleeve, black Levi's, and Clarks. I think this is the most style-forward of the five outfits, though that might not be saying a whole lot. The chambray is my second favorite shirt besides the gray flannel.

GSM encryption algorithms

There are at least seven different encryption algorithms used in the GSM protocol. However, I could only find information on three of them. This may be because the remaining four are not publicly known.

The first, A5/1, was developed in 1987, before GSM was used outside of Europe. Initially proposed to use a 128-bit key, the strength of encryption was argued over by European NATO countries. Germany was a proponent of very strong encryption because of it's proximity to the Soviet bloc. Britain, however, wished to more easily eavesdrop on cellular communications, and advocated for a weaker implementation. The firs implementation ended up using a 54-bit key but this was increased to 64 bits later.

1994 was the first time that A5/1 was compromised. Researcher Ross Anderson first demonstrated the possibility, and by the early 2000s the A5/1 could be decrypted in "less than one minute of computations" using only "a few seconds of known conversation."

A variant, A5/2, was used in export markets, mostly in developing countries. It was much weaker than A5/1, "so much so that [in 1999] low end equipment can probably break it in real time." A5/2 is now prohibited for use with any GSM network worldwide.

A5/3 is yet another variant, but much stronger than A5/1 because of its 128-bit key. It is also known as KASUMI; kasumi is the Japanese word for mist, and the algorithm was based on another algorithm called MISTY1. Several researchers have managed to break A5/3 or the protocol surrounding it, but none so far have compromised it in real-world settings.

Spring 2015 courses

Interactive Music (Yotam Mann)

The idea of Interactive Music (empowering listeners/players to personalize, perform and explore composed music in greater depth) has been expanding in popularity in recent years with big name artists such as Brian Eno, Radiohead and Bjork taking advantage of the musical possibilities that interactive technologies afford. This is convergent with the democratization of music-making softwares and the rise of DJ’ing which has expanded the audience for interactive music to a growing group of people who don’t see music as something to enjoy passively, but to actively participate in. Interactive music is not necessarily about generative music or audio synthesis (though it does includes these) but about realizing a musical idea as a collaboration between the composer and the listener. This course will guide students to make their own interactive music and musical projects while considering how interaction enriches and augments the experience of the music.

The course will be structured around 1 final assignment in which students create an interactive music project/performance. They will be encouraged to use Javascript, but ultimately, the language or platform is up to the students. The initial assignment will be a low-tech / no-tech interactive music project followed by intermediary assignment in which students explore methods and dimensions of musical interaction which they can build off of for their final assignment. Intermediate projects will also give students a chance to learn and apply the lessons on Javascript and the Web Audio API (specifically a framework called Tone.js).

Possible projects might include: adaptive-length songs, music-based games, reactive/responsive compositions, interactive performances, collaborative jamming platforms, and interactive music boxes.

The format of the course will balance discussion, instruction and jamming. Topics will include exploring the spectrum of interactive music from playback to full-fledged instruments as well as relevant artistic questions such as “how much control should composers give to their players/listeners”. Students will be exposed to prior-art interactives in contemporary music, game pieces, and video game music.

The technical part of the course will focus on Javascript, Web Audio (an HTML5 specification for audio synthesis, processing and playback) and Tone.js. Javascript is well suited for the course both for its ease-of-use and its ability to create multiplayer, mobile, location-based and click-based applications, among many other possibilities. Additionally, the browser provides a built-in means of distributing musical works.

Making Sense of Wearables (Despina Papadopoulos)

After almost 2 decades of experimentation in wearable technologies we are seeing a renewed interest in the area. Both the apparel and technology industry are edging the market and yet, nothing seems to stick. Wearable environments are complex – their intimate relationship to the human body, their expressive potential, their ambivalent relationship to fashion, well-being and notions of selfhood, all bring into focus core questions of interaction design.

Making Sense of Wearables will review the current and past landscape of wearable environments, outline possible criteria of success and experiment with developing prototypes that account for their personal, social and material implications (and opportunities). The class will be structured around themes of personal (human senses, qualified self, well being, intimacy and communication) and social space (time and location, gestures, fashion and material culture): each week a new theme will be introduced, along with examples, historical evolution in the area, readings, and related technologies and their implications.

Students will be asked to respond to these themes with weekly assignments and fuse emerging technological possibilities with design considerations of the embodied human experience. Students will be encouraged to explore and expand their aptitude in physical computing and rapid prototyping techniques but deep experience in either is not a pre-requisite for the class.

Thesis (Kathy Wilson)

An ITP thesis is a demonstration of mastery of a particular project or problem of your design. It can take different forms—a physical prototype, a research paper—but the key is that there is a central concept, with a clear statement of purpose: in other words, 1) what it is, and 2) so what? Why are you interested in it? What need does it fulfill, what does it add to the world, a field, the literature? Your thesis does not have to be a finished product—that would be impossible in 14 weeks—but it should be a proof of concept. That is, you should show us how it could be achieved and we’d have confidence that you could. You will find a list of what is considered a proof-of-concept for different media on the blog, when it is up and running.

Unlike a dissertation at a more traditionally academic program, you do not have to defend your thesis to a committee. You do have to 'defend' it to your thesis class and teacher! They will help you hone your idea and get it in to shape. Many people think of their thesis as a platform—something from which you could write a grant, a business plan, a conference proposal or just show as part of your portfolio. It is the one thing that you do here at ITP that’s all yours: you generate the idea, you create the path towards implementation. The ITP thesis reflects our belief that you will leave here feeling comfortable as a creator, inventor, maker and thinker. And you will also be able to express your ideas to others in a variety of ways—in writing, in model, a prototype, in conversation, in a presentation.

Towers of Power (Benedetta Piantella)

In this two-credit course we will learn how the GSM network works and will explore cellphone technologies and how to get your projects communicating with a cell carrier. This course will mainly be structured in two parts, the first will be dedicated to learning about the current GSM infrastructure and how the communication between cell phones and the network happens; we will be introducing open source alternatives, both hardware and software, for setting up and deploying your own GSM network as a way to better understand the different components of the system. The second part will focus on getting a hands on experience with off the shelf GSM modules, modems and mobile hardware (possibly to build your own cellphone!) and on getting those devices communicating with cellphone networks via text message (SMS) and via data transfer (GPRS). We will have open workshop sessions for further developing your mini-project and presenting it to the rest of the class as well as guest speakers. Pcomp and basic programming skills are required.