In celebration of #MarchIsForMakers, an initiative to get more coders interested in building hardware, I started this 4-part introduction to wearable technology. Click here to see Part I of the series Getting Started with Wearables, and here for Part II on Finding the Right Microcontroller. For Part III on Tools and Sensors, click here.
Projects are easier to do with computer engineering companies, maker organizations, hardware stores and electronic manufacturers offering their latest DIY all inclusive kits. If you’re a beginner, you may want to start off with a wearable tech kit before developing your own project. I’ve listed four all-inclusive kits below that come with everything you need to complete a project.
FLORA Wearable Sensor Kit
Great for: small LED light displays, door motion sensors, pedometers, and compass packs
- FLORA microcontroller board
- motion, direction, color, light level, touch and connection sensors
- conductive fabric and thread
- battery pack and 4 AAA batteries
- JST extension and USB cables
- accelerometer and compass
- 4 RGB neopixels (for light displays)
- sewable snaps
Where to get it: MCM Electronics
LilyPad Design Kit
Great for: making your own mini circuit board, buttons, switches, and light displays
- LilyPad mini microcontroller
- 2 rainbow LED strips
- 7 coin cell batteries with holders
- 3 bobbins of conductive thread (30 feet each)
- conductive fabric and needle set
- button board
- slide switch
- tutorial data sheets
- tutorial product video
Where to get it: Robot Mesh
GEMMA Talking Toy Sound Pack
Great for: programmable toys that talk or sing to the user
- GEMMA V2 microcontroller
- 1 lipoly battery with USB charger
- 1 tilt switch
- 1 transistor (for amplifying sound) and resistor
- small speak
- 24 inches of core wire
- 3 pieces of heat shrink
Where to get it: Adafruit Industries
Brainwave Mobile Starter Kit
Great for: EEG brainwave tracking, ECG (cardio, pulse) analysis, eSense metering
- Mobile headset band with battery area
- power switch
- sensor tip
- User guide
- Mindwave tutorial app
- Visualizer app
- Speed Math app
- Mindwave DVD with PC and OSX installation, frameworks, connectors, and utilities
Where to get it: NeuroSky
Once you have all your tools, e-textiles, and a microcontroller ready to go, it’s time to dive into some projects. Here are four awesome ones that I handpicked for this series.
Sew Electric’s Programming Tutorial: I listed this one first because it is important to understand how to program your microcontroller before diving into projects. Sew Electric offers this great tutorial on coding programs for the Lilypad to make e-textile projects more interesting.
Great for: newbs and young makers**
Total estimated time commitment: 3-5 hours.
Metawear’s MetaForce Wristband Project: This is a cool project if you don’t want to spend a lot of time
getting started. Essentially, you will create a wristband using the Metawear microcontroller that gives feedback while you’re playing games on an iphone. You can program it to vibrate when shooting a target, ring when scoring a point, buzz as a timer, and provide other feedback. The drawback is that this project requires a bit of soldering so you’ll need that extra tool. For mobile gamers, it could be worth it.
Great for: mobile gamers and avid iphone users
Total estimated time commitment: 1-3 hours.
Instructables Sound Reflective Headphones Project: Program your headphones to react to the sound of music in your ears. This project works with the FLORA microcontroller and LED lights. Due to it’s popularity among makers, the project has been updated to customize the headphones to provide light displays or use smaller microcontrollers.
Great for: music lovers
Total estimated time commitment: 4-6 hours.
Makezine’s NeoGeo Watch: This project uses the most tools but also packs in the most functionality. The watch functions as a timekeeper, compass, and GPS, using LEDs to show the user direction and time. It works with the FLORA microcontroller and accelerometers to create a compact GPS system.
Great for: hikers, outdoorsmen
Total estimated time commitment: 4-6 hours.
In this series, we were introduced to wearables and how the technology is going beyond just being trendy. In part I, we discussed how wearable tech is becoming more in demand in the healthcare, fitness, and mobile industries by providing the user with data in real time. I reviewed how the individual parts form together in making a polished project. In part II, we went over microcontrollers specifically and how they contribute to wearable tech as the main “brain” of a project. Later in Part III, we focused on organizing a well-stocked toolbelt, taking into consideration the different kinds of tools and sensors you might want include in your project. Finally, we’re ready to order our kits and get a project or two going!
Thanks for joining me on this series, and best of luck to you on your projects.*
*Statement of Disclosure: As the author of the series, I am not affiliated with any of the brands or manufacturers listed in the posts. I also do not represent any company tied with any of the technology reviewed.
**Disclaimer: The projects listed are best suitable for youth with adult supervision.