There is something about wearable projects that causes me to utterly forget my technical limits and computational boundaries and dream up the most extravagantly fanciful, unrealistic projects. The fact that I can wear tech is so exciting that I design the most fantastic, impractical projects possible, and when I begin to build it out, the roadblocks that I encounter are immense. Some of them have to do with power, some have to do with the balancing making the project IoT-based while keeping the footprint small, and most have to do with continuity in construction and extending the electrical circuit throughout the wearable.
Part of the problem is me letting my ideas get ahead of reality, but part of the issue is that these challenges accompany any wearable project. No matter how complex the project gets, power, construction, and connectivity will always be difficult to successfully design while optimizing for the smallest footprint possible.
While there are some products that make building wearables easier, they still don't really eliminate the specific challenges specific to wearables. But this shouldn't deter us from playing within this sector. Wearables are at the intersection of so many industries and can be used to link technology and fashion, furniture, aerospace, kitchen tools - really anything! Considering how the world is moving toward a data-driven model, in which the inanimate objects around us constantly collect, provide and utilize data to make our lives better, it isn't a surprise that we want to gain more information from the soft surfaces around us. We just need it to be easier to do.
New York-based electronic textile firm Loomia has created a series of circuits for soft goods that makes building wearables exponentially easier. They've built the Loomia Electronic Layer, or LEL, which is basically an embedded electrical circuit laminated onto fabric. Instead of building everything around a breadboard, the LEL is designed to make product-like prototypes that seamlessly integrate into whatever surface material you’re working with - all you have to do is peel the backing and it can stick to anything. It enables light, heat and pressure to be integrated into fabrics. Of course this ease of construction and usability has me back to dreaming up projects in the wearable-world, but this time it's just easier!
One of Loomia's components that stood out in particular to me is the 5V-7.2V heater. Using two LiPo batteries in series, it can warm up within 60 seconds and top out after two minutes. I've never seen a heater that is so easy to begin using, and that can be integrated on nearly any type of material.
Here in Colorado in the dead of winter, I'm a fan of all things heat. I often can't go anywhere without my puffy jacket, but sometimes I want to wear other jackets that just don't provide the same type of insulation. The Loomia heating pad is perfect for solving this problem!
I can connect up the heating pad with other Loomia components using the interconnect system - all that is required is slightly trimming the connection pad - and then soldering the buses together like any other electrical connection. All LELs can be soldered together quickly like this!
The code itself is run off an Arduino and is connected to a temperature sensor via Qwiic. When the temperature sensor hits a threshold (in my case 32 degrees F), it triggers the heater to turn on. So, the initial voltage is set to zero, and if triggered, it increments the voltage to tap out at 255.
Sweet! I've got an integrated heating pad in my blazer now, and I didn't even have to spend hours thinking about construction. The Loomia components make building wearables seamless, and really, can elevate any prototyping project and make it look like a final design.
The possibilities are endless with these revolutionary soft circuits...I'm considering building an interactive pillow-case alarm clock with the pressure sensor next. What kind of projects does this technology enable you to do now?