Smart Textiles

Photo by Brooke Hall.

Smart Textiles

There’s been no shortage of discussion concerning the artist’s affect on society as of late. More specifically, there’s been growing interest in how best to integrate the sensibility of the artist into the ethos of the burgeoning technological era that’s reshaping our ideas about civilization. What is certain is that the realm of possibility is growing and the prevailing assumption is that the artist will play a key role in this process. Now more than ever, we need individuals who are willing to re-envision the world, and its complexity, through their own imaginations rather than the narrow definitions set forth in the 20th century.

Recently, our unyielding curiosity led us to The Beehive for The First Annual Hackathon. It was there where we met Gary Mauler who told us about an interesting collaboration between the Johns Hopkins University Digital Media Center and the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Fiber Department. The program involved projects that integrate textiles and technology. Gary, an engineer and founder of Robot Fest, played the role of principle mentor to the students involved in the Collaborative Smart Textiles Research Lab. The students were challenged to work in disciplines in which they had little or no experience. We had the opportunity to witness the result of their efforts at the recent Wash and Wear Electronics Students Presentations. It was fascinating to say the least.

The spirit of collaboration was intoxicating, and it’s clear the instructors intentionally wanted to create a learning environment that was as forward-thinking and unconventional as some of these devices. As we move into the post-information age, where digital natives become the next generation of engineers and artists, we are reminded that the highest forms of innovation are born in the synergy between art and technology, and are reared by intense human collaboration.

Photo by Brooke Hall

Peter Ebeid-Atalla devised a glove that interfaces with recording software and uses flex sensors in the fingers to manipulate multiple parameters of audio via MIDI. While devices like this aren’t necessarily revolutionary, the end product represents the process by which he came to conceptualize, collaborate and create something that may have been out of his realm of experience before the undertaking.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Photo by Brooke Hall

Luna Marceau

The presentation space at Mount Royal Station was filled with curious students, faculty from both participating universities and a handful of members of the press besides ourselves.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Photo by Brooke Hall.

The LED Gallup Boot was developed by Emily Cudworth, a junior at MICA. The boot is fitted to the lower leg of a horse where it lights up when the horse’s hoof hits the ground and switches off once it’s lifted. There are both artistic and practical applications for the LED Gallup Boot such as using the points generated by the LEDs to analyze the horse’s stride or possibly having a rider and horse both wearing LEDs for the sake of accentuating a riding performance.

The design was inspired, in part, by Eadweard Muybridge’s “The Horse In Motion” pictured in the background. The series of photographs were commissioned by Leland Stanford, then governor of California, to settle the argument of whether or not all of a horse’s legs left the ground at once while galloping.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Photo by Brooke Hall.

Joan Friedman, Director, Johns Hopkins University Digital Media Center, James Rouvelle, Chair of Interactive Design and Art at MICA and Annet Couwenberg, Fiber Faulty at MICA.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Photo by Brooke Hall.

Tabor Barranti, a senior at Johns Hopkins studying engineering mechanics and biology, created a garment entitled Chromaticity. The top is woven with unjacketed optical fiber that when bent at 140 degrees, it emits light from the apex of the resulting curve. The outfit is dynamic apparel in which the color of the fabric can be changed at the whim of its owner.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Photo by Brooke Hall.

Jack Anderson developed a device called the Want Band. The Want Band represents his vision of the future where the interface for our mobile devices will be simplified, possibly fashionable and maybe even implantable. The system consists of the user interface, a wrist band that communicates via bluetooth to the brain of the device, his smart phone. The wrist band is equipped with four buttons that represent different search terms. When each button is pushed the smart phone searches for those terms in reference to the users location and pulls up a map of where he can find what he’s looking for in the real world. It was Jack’s assertion that this idea of simplifying the interface will evolve until it’s quite possible that it will engage directly with the user’s central nervous system.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Since 1995, The Creative Alliance has promoted Baltimore as a dynamic center of art in all genres. With members ranging from artists and educators to neighbors and supports, the Creative Alliance cultivates community through collaboration.

Photo by Brooke Hall.

Breath of Life was a conceptual piece and the result of a collaboration between Peter Bai, an environmental engineering major from Johns Hopkins, and Samara Rosen, a fiber major from MICA. The concept was to use solar panels to power a device that emulates the act of breathing. The device is also light sensitive which Peter Bai demonstrated with a flashlight. When light reaches the sensors the device expands and contracts as if it were inhaling and exhaling.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Photo by Brooke Hall.

Matthew Reading’s Lighting Umbrella was devised as a fashion accessory. Envision a model strutting down the runway when suddenly the lights go out, the parasol pops open with light streaming from inside.

“I wanted to highlight the model as a spectacle.” -Matthew Reading.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Photo by Brooke Hall.

Audio Interplay was a project originated by Garrett Lee, a sophomore studying interdisciplinary sculpture and graphic design at MICA. The creation is a sound-activated LED tapestry. The tapestry reacts with sound and light depending on the users location within a space. The interactive nature of the tapestry incited a rousing round of applause once the audience realized that they could interact with the exhibit from where they stood.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Photo by Brooke Hall.

In the fifteen weeks that the students spent working together they reached an impressive level of proficiency in a range of fields. The extent of collaboration between students, universities, the Baltimore Node and others was nothing less than inspirational. The process of creating these projects was far removed from what we think of as institutional learning. The students were encouraged to explore their own notions of what was possible and to find solutions for problems they may have never imagined encountering.

The journey from lab bench to functionality is analogous to real world experience in that during the process mistakes will be made and sometimes failure is inevitable. But that’s okay. If you can maintain a positive attitude the lessons learned along the way are sometimes more valuable than the end product.

Photo by Brooke Hall, story by Justin Allen.

Brooke Hall

Photographer. Brooke is the co-founder and publisher of What Weekly.

Justin Allen

Justin is a co-founder and managing editor of What Weekly. He also runs What Works Studio with Brooke Hall, the studio that publishes What Weekly.

  • http://whatweekly.com/2010/12/15/wash-and-wear/ Smart Textiles | What Weekly Magazine

    [...] [...]