For the past few months I’ve been collaborating with my dear friend Breeyn McCarney on a project called Paper Dolls, which debuted at [FAT] 2011. It was the first fashion show I’ve participated in and it was incredibly well received. The highlight for me was taking a bow on the runway at the end of the show; such a thrill!
Breeyn and I initially met to work on ideation together and discuss the possibilities of how technology could be included. The collection consisted of paper dresses augmented with technology. I even got to help cut and assemble some of the paper components, but it was really only a very small fraction of the time Breeyn spent designing and crafting.
The most ambitious and fantastic of the dresses was the BlinkM dress. I’m simply in love with what we built!
The dress is controlled using a mobile application that allows the wearer, or spectators, to change the colour of the dress by simply clicking on one of 16 possible colour choices; it could really be a much higher number of choices, but 16 made for a mobile friendly and easy interface. It was designed with the expectation that a wearer could interact with others, say at a party, and allow other people to remotely control the dress. There is a potential to use the dress for any type of data visualization where colour is an indicator, but I do believe there is also an “aesthetic utility” that is being met (it’s pretty!).
There are a lot of moving parts to this. First, the dress has 7 BlinkMs embedded in it and can run stand-alone showing random colours, as it did at the [FAT] 2011 show, or connected to and powered by an Arduino board. The Arduino board and lights are controlled by a laptop. The laptop runs TinkerProxy 2 which lets a Flash Controller send the desired hue. The hue is written to my laptop from a publicly visible Web Application at colour.breeyn.com. The Flash Controller reads the hue by pulling a value from a text file; push would have been overkill and because it’s run locally the latency is fairly low with the hue being updated every 0.5 seconds:
The mobile control aspect was born from an experiment I did months ago. The apartment I live in is visible from quite far away and I’m always anxious to see which apartment is mine. I created a setup where I could use a technology called Megaphone to call a number and turn lights on and off in my apartment so that I could see which apartment was mine. I used BlinkMs so I could change the colour of the lights and distinguish my apartment from others:
The simplest of the augmented dresses were decorated with small LED throwies.