Hand Substrate Interface Prototyping Continued!

This post marks part 3 (?) of the Hand Substrate Interface to be used to test for soil moisture.

To use the Hand-Substrate Interface, the user interacts with the glove in order to obtain the reading. A reading is only taken when the user wants to measure the soil moisture level, as opposed to obtaining a constant feed regardless of the hand placement. This will conserve battery life while out on a foray along with making sure that the data collected is accurate of the substrate condition. In order to understand this experience, the interaction between the glove and the user has been storyboarded to see this data collection process.

The storyboard is as follows: The user is on a foray and moves through the woods when they spy a lone mushroom specimen growing on the forest floor. She kneels down next to the mushroom to get a closer look, making note of the surroundings, along with making initial identifications of the mushroom. The user then pushes a button on the HSI in order to let it know that she needs to take a reading. Seeing the interface respond, she then takes the soil moisture reading with her hand, taking note of the reading. From this reading, she sees that the ground in this area is much more moist than an earlier area of the walk.  Looking around to get a idea of the level of the ground, the user wonders if this is because the ground is at a lower topographic height which would collect more water. She looks up to see the density of the foliage overhead and wonders if the increase in tree canopy has created a barrier for the soil moisture to evaporate, thus leading to an increase of mushrooms cropping up in the area. As the user ponders these environmental questions, this data captured from the reading which includes the moisture reading, GPS location and timestamp is then stored in the glove. After the walk, she will extract this data from the HSI and upload it to her local mycological club’s online database where she can compare walks this data to what other members have collected.

Since a reading is only taken when the user wants to get the soil moisture level as opposed to obtaining a constant feed, the interaction between the user and the glove needs to be designed in order for the user to obtain the reading as needed. An RGB LED interface is used on the glove in order to display the various states of the gloves to the user. A Neopixel 12 – LED ring is being utilized as this display because of its compact size and circular features. Less than 2 inches in diameter, the Neopixel is able to lie flat on the back of the hand or elsewhere on the arm. The circular nature of the LEDs also allows to function as a dial when getting a reading. This ring formation also gives way for placement of a momentary switch that the user can press to cycle through various states of the circuit to interact with the HSI. The use of RGB LEDs and programmability of the Neopixel ring gives flexibility in a range of designs and patterns that can be used to communicate these different states.

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While the user is walking through the woods, the ring is turned off, with no LEDs on. Only when the user needs to take a reading will she press the switch located at the center of the ring. Upon being touched, the ring will light up, indicating that it is now turned on. When the user is ready to take a reading, they will press the button again, whereupon a pulsing light with yellow LEDs blinking off in succession four at a time which will indicate the countdown for a reading. With the 12 LEDs on the ring, this will indicate a three second countdown. While this is happening, the user will have time to place their fingers in the soil to ready themselves for a reading. After the blinking countdown, the ring of lights will now function as dial, showing the moisture of the soil based on how many blue lights are turned on going in a counter clockwise direction starting from the bottom center of the ring. This reading may fluctuate if the user is moving while taking the reading, but when it senses that there is no change after a few seconds, the reading is then stored, shown by a blinking green light. The user may now take an additional reading if desired, or continue on their foray. If the HSI senses no activity after a short period of time, the system will go to a battery conservation mode, indicated with the lights powering off.

This interaction is simple in indicating to the user what state it is in order to allow for ease of use. Although the reading does not give the user a numerical value, the dial will give the user a visual sense of the reading, which can be compared with other readings taken during the foray. This design choice was made in order to keep the user focused on the process of the walk, rather than have to compare the actual numbers. Rather than presenting the data points as hard values, the dial indicator for the soil moisture reading acts as a suggestion and reminder for the user to question and compare the readings at other points of the walk. The data containing the actual numerical values however, can be stored and analyzed at a later time. Through use, the user may also develop a different sense of reading and using the HSI as she gains experience with the interaction of getting a reading through her fingers.


In prototyping this interaction, a soft momentary switch was built to use with the Neopixel ring. The momentary switch is made using two pieces of neoprene with copper conductive fabric adhered on one side using fusible webbing. The button is designed to be the same size as the Neopixel ring so that the ring can sit ontop of the button in the glove design. On one of the neoprene pieces, another piece of neoprene cut in a ring is attached on top of the copper fabric to prevent the two copper fabric pieces from constantly touching. The neoprene pieces are then hand sewn together to form the button. Only when the button is pressed down upon, will the two conductive fabric pieces make contact and read as a button press. A pull up resistor is added the switch so that the reading of the switch will constantly be read as “high” until button is pressed. The code for the program was written in Arduino using parts of the Neopixel library and combined with a previously written program for a soil moisture sensor that was adapted from the GardenBot project.


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In considering other materials that can be used to build the gloves, leather was utilized in the third iteration of the glove design. Though it can be difficult to sew, leather can be more comfortable against the skin, provide structure for the form of the glove, along with being a durable material. Although leather is a material commonly used for making gloves, the nature of wearing another’s skin to enabling the wearer’s ability to sense the environment is also a bit fascinating. Given that this project overall advocates for facilitating new relationships between humans and other nonhuman agents, it is noted that only waste scrap leather was used from this project that was obtained from a wholesale resale fabric store in the Fashion District in Los Angeles.



In this iteration, the finger pieces are semi-detached from the hand in the glove. The leather is used to create a cap that sits on the fingertips where the exposed traces sit to take a reading. A mesh fabric harvested from a laundry bag was used for the underside of the finger cap so that as the sensors are placed in the soil, the user is also able to feel the ground through the mesh fabric. To attach to the rest of the glove, traces are made out of conductive spandex zig-zagged stitch to a cotton jersey material to create connections from the finger caps. On the back of the hand, a circuit is laid out to for the soil moisture sensor, Neopixel ring and the momentary switch.


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The glove will then be attached to a wristband that will house the microcontroller, battery and other electronic components to form the circuit. Spreading the circuit out along the hand onto the arm prevents any bulky areas from forming that might get in the way of wearability.  Splitting the circuit into different sections would also allow the circuit to be more accessible if there are any errors.  The creation of the wristband also provides a platform for the addition of other components and features in future iterations. For example, the current demo prototype does not include the GPS module or a soil temperature sensor. However, the wristband would allow for placement of more components that could be added to the Hand-Substrate Interface.

Soil Sampling Update: Spore Stepper

Since conceptualizing the shoe that takes in soil samples, I have taken steps to implement this idea into an object.

Precedent Works

In looking at precedent works, there are a wide range of projects that have embedded technology into footwear. A common thread throughout these projects is that the functionality of the shoe depends on the movement of the wearer in order to actuate it.


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The Nanohana Heels is a project by artist Sputniko! in collaboration with shoewear designer, Masaya Kushino. This pair of shoes was developed in 2012 following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan during Spring of 2011. As demoed in a video about the shoe, with each step into the earth, rapeseeds (nanohana in Japanese) are dispensed from the stiletto point of the heel. According to Sputniko’s website, Belarusian scientists have determined that rapeseed blossoms are able to absorb radioactive substances. This research was done on lands affected by Chernobyl in the 2000’s to consider remediation of lands. By planting rapeseeds with each step, the shoes seek to question how to heal the land damaged by the nuclear disaster through action.

For the soil sampling shoe, an opposite effect is desired, in which matter is collected rather than dispensed.  Also instead of each step leading to soil collection, the action will have to be spaced out through out the duration of the walk, otherwise a lot of soil would be collected. Based on prior research on soil sampling, 40 mL of soil is suggested for a sample. This sample would then need to be located near the foot, whether directly in the shoe, or perhaps near the foot around the ankle.


E-Traces by designer Lesia Trubat documents the movement of dancers through sensors placed on the ballet shoe. This movement is then sent via wi-fi to a smart phone which then presents the traces performed by the dancer. This project seeks to create a digital artifact of the performance to function as a visual image to allow the dancer to study their movements in order to learn and improve from this tracking.

In considering the tracking function of E-Trace, this could provide an understanding for development of a tracking function for the soil sampling shoe. This would allow the shoe to determine when to collect soil, based on where on it’s position of a space, such as a park or trail.



Roller shoes are a type of footwear with an embedded wheel, allowing the wearer to glide across a surface when the weight is shifted onto the heel. Roger Adams, the founder of roller shoe company Heelys, patented this design in 1999 and has geared it towards the youth market ever since. Based on the company website, he “cut open a pair of sneakers, inserted a skateboard wheel, and Heelys were born!”. Current Heelys sneakers also feature a removable wheel which would allow the wearer to step without rolling. Although Heelys and other roller shoes are popular due to its recreational aspects by embedding a normal shoe with the potential for rollersport activity on any flat, hard surface, this has come not without controversy.  From frustrated pedestrians and shopkeepers to concerned pediatricians, roller shoes is seen as a dangerously annoying and annoyingly dangerous footwear. However, even almost 17 years since this product come onto the market, several retailers still carry roller shoes in their inventory.

As a precedent work for the soil sampling shoe, roller shoes serve to be an interesting design for how technologies are embedded into the shoe, particular in the heel which makes direct contact to the ground.  The pressure on the heel activates the wheel in the roller shoe, allowing the wearer to glide or roll across their surface. This insight provides consideration into how the wearer must interact with the soil sample shoe in order to facilitate the collection process. Although the shoe provides a more passive soil collection compared to existing methods, certain actions or gestures must still be performed in considering the interaction design aspects of the object. The soil extracted from the ground for the soil samples collected by the shoe needs to be accessible for analysis, thus can follow the retractibility of the wheel in the roller shoe.

First Iteration

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In the first iteration of the soil sample shoe (working title is “Spore Stepper”), a circuit was built onto an existing shoe to allow soil sampling to occur. A circuit that controlled a servo motor was built that was controlled by a pressure sensor switch. A scoop and collection bag are built on top of the servo motor so that when the pressure sensing switch is closed, the servo motor would pick up dirt using the scoop attachment and deposit the dirt into the bag located directly behind the scoop. This circuit was then fastened to the a Vans Classic Slip on shoe by using zip ties to connect the breadboard where the microcontroller and some of the components are held to the flat part on top of the foot. The design of this shoe allowed for easy access to fasten the breadboard onto the surface. The switch was installed inside the shoe where the ball of the wearer’s foot would reside.  This would allow the switch to be activated when pressure was placed at the front of the shoe, such as when the user is mid-step. The servo motor is then placed on the inner side of the shoe, adhered to the shoe using hot glue. The scoop attachment is angled downwards, so that soil would automatically get pushed into the scoop when the scoop is made. As the wearer steps, the servo motor is triggered, which dumps the dirt collected onto the scoop into a collection bag located at the other end.


This low-fidelity prototype is an early proof of concept to show a possibility of how a soil collecting device can be attached to a shoe. Although it is functional, several design and technical considerations can be made to refine this prototype. One major design consideration is how to fully integrate the components into the shoe rather than having the components sit on top of the shoe. This would entail building the electronics into the shoe in a more seamless manner. A technical consideration is to use another method of soil collection that would allow the soil to be collected more naturally with the step action of a user, rather than having a servo motor pick up the dirt.  An addition of an inflation bulb such as the ones used for a turkey baster or blood pressure pump would allow for suction without digital components, though placing of this component in the shoe for proper inflation and deflation would be complicated without constant collection happening by the suction. Initial tests with a turkey baster also did not prove to be successful in collecting dirt.

One method to reconsider the soil collection methods is to use soft robotics to move the soil into a collection chamber inside the shoe. The soft robotics would take form of a pneumatic muscle located in the outsole of the shoe that can expand and contract to push the soil into a collection chamber also located in the outsole. The natural pressure from taking a step would push dirt into the entrance of the muscle through the tread. Only when the shoe is ready to collect dirt, through tracking the distance in between the last time of collection or at discretion of the wearer, the muscle will activate to “swallow” dirt into collection.

Although it would still need digital components such as a pump, microcontroller and power source, a soft actuator would be easier to implement into shoe rather than accounting for the full range of motion that is required by the servo motor. At this point in building the prototype, the actual artifact of the shoe was taken into consideration. As a speculative piece, it was important for the object of the shoe to present the potential functionality and conceptual elements of the piece, more so than to be a robust, efficient model (at least this is what I am telling myself).

To test out this method, I followed instructions set forth by the Soft Robotics Toolkit, an open resource for building soft robotics created by Harvard University and Trinity College Dublin, for building a fiber-reinforced actuator using a cardboard mold. A two part mold was constructed using cardboard pieces and then reinforced by hot glue to prevent leakage.  EcoFlex, a silicon casting material by SmoothFlex, was then prepared according to specifications and poured into the mold. A piece of paper was placed in between the silicon on the top layer to act as a stiffener. This would constrain the actuator to bend in a specific manner rather when it is inflated.

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After curing, the silicon pieces were pulled out and adhered to each other with additional silicon.  Tubing was then inserted inside the actuator to the open chamber, which is then attached to an empty plastic bottle. The empty plastic bottle acted as a impromptu pump to inflate and deflate the silicon actuator.

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By designing this silicon piece in a cylindrical shape with sections to inflate in succession, the actuator would be able to push dirt through a tube. This action would mimic swallowing, with the dirt being deposited in a “stomach”, or a storage area to be held until the walk is over and the collected dirt can be obtained for analysis. In considering how the cylindrical actuator will be designed, the work of F.J. Chen et al. for their work, “Soft Actuator Mimicking Human Esophageal Peristalsis for a Swallowing Robot” was referenced. This research developed a soft actuator that replicated a human esophagus to swallow by building a silicon body with horizontal chambers that would inflate in succession to mimic the muscles utilized in a human model. Although this design yields a model that is larger and more complex than what is needed for the soil sample shoe, it provides a basis for the possible functionality of implementing a soft actuator in the prototype.


In considering the final form of the overall shoe, designs from fashion footwear are referenced as examples to convey the concept and house the collection method in the shoe. DEGEN, a fashion company based in Brooklyn, New York created a line of outdoor inspired footwear in 2014 that incorporated elements of hiking boots in an unexpected manner. The result is a shoe that has a platform heels, with flashes of bright color at the heel, trim around the sole, and in the laces. The use of a fur trim and nylon cord gives the shoe an “outdoor” aesthetic, while the choice of color and chunky design of the treads read as more playful. The overall form sends a series of mixed messages due to this combination as a fashionable interpretation of a hiking shoe. The playful manner in which DEGEN approached designing the shoe results in an interesting object that can be utilized in considering the final form for the soil sampling shoe.

The “Jagger Platform Oxford” by design label, Jefferey Campbell presents another approach to footwear design that can be co-opted in the soil sample shoe. In this design, an oxford shoe has been extended at the outsole with a section created out of clear acrylic which creates a storage space for sequins. This seems to be a more humane version of the platform shoes of the 1970’s popular at discos in which clear heels could be filled with gold fish. Parts of the heel for these platform shoes would be removable to place, feed, or even replace the fish as a decorative item within the shoe 🙁 .

By designing a portion of the soil sampling shoe to be clear and transparent, it would allow for the process for collecting the soil sample to be apparent, yet housed within the shoe.  In following the designs for the 1970’s clear heeled shoes, parts of the heel could also be designed to be removable to retrieve the soil sample at the end of a walk.

Hand Substrate Interface

One of the prototypes I am currently working on is the Hand-Substrate Interface. This was originally conceived to be part of the Data HarVest, but is now it’s own device. The concept for Hand-Substrate Interface is to create a wearable device that can be worn around the hand to capture information about the substrate surfaces, such as soil and wood.  Rather than having to pull out probes to receive quantifiable data about the environment, the user would be able to implement gestures performed during a mycological foray, such as touching with the hand, to obtain this information.


The first iteration of this used a work glove as the base material for which sensors were placed onto. One of these sensors included a soil moisture sensor that is deconstructed so that it can fit on the glove. A soil moisture sensor typically consists of two probes that function as a variable resistor. These probes are placed into the ground to measure the conductivity between the two points. The more moisture or water that is in the earth, the higher the conductivity will be between the probes, resulting in lower resistance.

The sensor is built into a glove by embedding conductive materials so that index and middle fingers of the gloves becomes the probe. When the two fingers are inserted perpendicularly into the ground, a reading can be taken of the current moisture levels. As a wearable, the sensor becomes a more portable and readily accessible to be used, while the gesture required for taking a reading allows the user to interact with the physical environment in an intimate manner. Since only two fingers of the gloves are currently being utilized for the soil moisture sensor, there is potential to add additional sensing capabilities to the other fingers.

Although the glove provides a structure for the components and sensors to be mounted onto, the glove is also a barrier for the fingers’ direct interaction with the environment. In building these prototypes, one goal is to build wearable devices with embedded environmental sensors which this prototype addresses. However, another goal is to facilitate a more aware interaction with the natural environment and the use of the glove would mask this action.  This would mean not only collecting qualitative data from using the probe, but also allowing for a qualitative experience, such as allowing the user to also feel how wet the substrate might be, in addition to obtaining a reading.

The Hand-Substrate Interface is currently being reiterated in two different ways. One is revisiting the concept of the glove, but utilizing different materials to allow for a more tangible interaction. The materials include stretchable fabrics such as knits so that the glove can sit closer onto the user’s hand, along with textiles with a more open structure such as mesh and netting so that direct contact can be made with the substrate, while providing a surface for the circuits can be embedded into.  The design for the glove iteration takes inspiration from fashion designer Rachel Freire’s work in e-textiles.  In working with performers and musicians to build wearable devices that augment their performance, Freire has developed a process to more seamlessly embed the technologies into garments that are worn close to the body, such as gloves. One of these projects, Mi.mu, is a collaboration between technologists, designers and musicians to build a glove that can control a musical interface with gestures. Through several iterations and tests, they have created a functional device that an artist is able to use, without hinderance to their movement.

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Another iteration of the Hand-Substrate Interface is to use conductive temporary tattoos as a method to rethink the relationship between how technology resides on the body to interact with environment.  By installing the probes directly onto the body by adhering the traces to the skin via temporary tattoos, there will be little to no barrier between the hand and the environment. A wrist band will be constructed to house the electronic components such as the microcontroller and interface to work with the sensor. The wrist band will be connected to the conductive tattoo with contact points located on the inside of the band that will be worn against the skin.

The conductive temporary tattoo method was first tested based on the work in DuoSkin by Cindy Kao, et al. In their paper, the group documents a process of creating temporary tattoos using gold leaf adhered to temporary tattoo paper and then applied onto the surface of the skin. This method would create skin-friendly circuits that are worn on the body that can also provide a basis for surface mounted LEDs.

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The materials for this process utilizes gold leaf, gold leaf adhesive, and blank temporary tattoo paper which consists of one sheet of silicon material on a paper backing that acts as a base and an adhesive sheet.  To test out this process, I made a rectangular piece (approximately 4″ x 11″) of the temporary tattoo with gold leaf to test how it will apply to the skin, rather than using a stencil. I first coated a section of the glossy side of the paper-backed sheet with gold leaf adhesive and allowed it to cure for 30 minutes. Afterwards, I applied a layer of gold leaf onto the surface and trimmed the paper down. The adhesive sheet was then applied so that the whole gold leaf area was covered with a clear plastic sheet.

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To use as a tattoo, I cut out smaller rectangles of the tattoo out using scissors. However, when peeling off the clear plastic sheet to expose the adhesive layer, some of the gold leaf layer was pulled off the silicon layer.  In the DuoSkin layer, the authors did discuss applying multiple layers, perhaps to guard against this happening. This could also be a result uneven application of the gold leaf adhesive as well.


To test if a piece could resist the plastic area being peeled off, a larger rectangular piece was cut off with moderate success. The sticky exposed side was then placed downwards on the skin and a wet towel was applied against the paper, thoroughly wetting the tattoo for about 15 seconds. The paper then slid off and the tattoo was applied to my forearm. Although the result is not totally pristine it does validate the procedure put forth the DuoSkin group.


By utilizing materials for creating temporary tattoos, this process ensures a skin-friendly method of building circuits onto the body. However, the insulation that the adhesion and silicon used in the temporary tattoo process does create a hinderance in thinking about the overall design of the probe. Using a multimeter, it was hard to get a stable read on the silicon surface of the tattoo. By peeling up a bit of the tattoo to get a reading on the adhesion layer, there was continuity with fairly low resistance (approximately 5 ohms across). However, since this is the layer that is supposed to sit against the skin, it is difficult to access the layer without ripping the surface of the tattoo. The ability to have exposed traces is important in considering building the tattoo into a soil moisture sensor. The two traces that create the probe need to be able to make contact with the earth in order to obtain a proper reading.

In researching other methods for safely applying gold leaf to the skin, I came across makeup tutorials for applying gold leaf as a highlight to the face, body and even hair. In Fall 2011 and again in Winter 2014, there were brief trends in which gold leaf accents was popular enough to warrant many online tutorials to guide people who were curious about incorporating this trend into their look.

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Based on the “How to Make Your Holiday Makeup Look Super Fancy” tutorial put forth by fashion blog, Refinery 29, gold leaf can be applied directly to the body using “eyelash glue, Vaseline, coconut oil, and jojoba oil”, although gold leaf should be able to adhere somewhat to the skin without an adhesive.  In Honestly WTF’s “DIY Gold Leaf Faux Jewelry”, the author suggests using spirit gum, a solution usually used in costuming to adhere a range of false hairs and prosthetics directly to an actor’s skin. Because only one layer of adhesion is applied to adhere the gold leaf to the skin surface rather than the insulating silicon top piece for the temporary tattoo, the gold leaf would have exposed traces that would allow for reading the soil moisture through sensing changes in resistance.

TO BE CONTINUED as a I acquire eyelash glue // other skin safe adhesives!

Prototypes: Forage Storage Pt. 2

This post contains prototypes for the Front Pack storage prototype. In the process of making these items, it was interesting to think about the resolution of these prototypes. For example, the sleeve storage (featured in part 3), which could potentially be incorporated into a jacket, is actually just the sleeve because it’s easier to just sew the segment of the clothing, rather making a full blown jacket. But at the same time, making the sleeve gave me more control over the structure and material than using an existing sleeve. In thinking about craft and making, there is a usually a fine balance I try to maintain between having the object refined enough to speak for itself conceptually, but also be straightforward in terms of materiality and maintain the presence of the hand. I am sure I will have to unpack that statement more at some point in my life, but not now!

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Here is the sketch for the Front Sack. The design allows your to easily store your foraged goods into the front of your body rather than having to reach around to a backpack or have to carry something like a basket or bag in your hands. The Front Sack is made out of two pieces of neoprene sewn together with a netting pouch that enclosed with a zipper. The neoprene pieces also form a smaller slotted pocket at the top of the sack that can be used to store wax bags that are used in forays to separate your collection within a basket or bag. The neoprene part of the bag also has grommets at the top edges so that it can clipped onto a harness via carabiners. This allows you to just pull the front sack on and off as needed at the beginning or end of a foray. The harness itself is actually from my Portable Workspace project back in the summer – it was helpful to have a base to work on in terms of figuring out the initial measurements of the project.


More sketches of the bag to figure out dimensions and how the layers go together.


Since I wanted the bottom of the mesh bag to be larger than the top, I created a deeper box bottom for the lower half so that when the sides of the squares were sewn together, it would have a larger inset. IMG_7011

Here is the pattern I made for the neoprene pieces. I usually write notes on the patterns to make the cutting and sewing the pieces out more smoothly. It’s like the textiles version of carpentry’s motto “Measure twice, cut once”. Well actually it’s the same thing. This is definitely a more rational form of making than just experimenting with materials. Though when making something with the intent that it needs to be worn on the body, it is usually best to measure out a lil bit before you put something together!

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As you can see, the Front Pack can actually store quite a bit of goods. In this case it was nylon fabric that I used for another prototype. But it is workable and potentially functional so that is always good.

Prototypes: Forage Storage Pt. 1

Over the past few days I have started prototyping, starting with Forage Storage – ways to collect physical data (mushrooms, substrates, interesting things) on the body.  Part of this prototype process was also to get an idea of how to combine some of the materials together and building models with some functionality.

One of the prototypes was the Hat Basket – a hat that could also be converted into a basket bag. This would be a helpful device to keep your hands free as you scrounge around in the forest, or can be converted into a carrying device if you realize that you want to collect something but did not carry a bag.

forage storage 1Here are some preliminary drawings that I made to write down some notes and address some design ideas.

I sewed the head part using a cycling cap pattern I found online.  I used ripstop nylon and window screen together which was much easier to sew together than I had expected. IMG_7013

I then safety pinned the head on to a base that I had made using wire with “spokes” going outwards to a larger circle to form a brim. The pointy bits were covered with electrical tape and window screen material was sewn around that piece to cover the brim. Handles are made out of nylon webbing and attached with safety pins so they can be repositioned as necessary, rather than sewing it directly down. IMG_7015

It’s not the most beautiful hat, but it does fit on my head!


When it needs to become a carrying device, the brim can be flipped up and become a basket of sorts for your materials. In this case, I foraged materials in the lab to carry so most of the things are like office supplies. IMG_7043

A top view of me wearing the hat with stored materials. As you can see, it can fit a decent amount of things. IMG_7037

If the hat needs to be carried like a basket, the hat can be removed and inverted so that the materials sink into the head piece. The handles can then be used to hold the bag.   IMG_7044

This prototype was an interesting exploration into materials usage, along with modeling out an inquiry of making a convertible hat.

MaxiFab research

MaxiFab was a group project for my fabrication class that seeks to apply rapid prototyping processes to build affordable and accessible menstrual products. One of the outcomes for this project were layered menstrual pads that we not only cut but also fused and assembled within a laser cutter.


Inspired by the “LaserStacker” research by Udayan et al.  in which multiple sheets of acrylic could be selectively fused and welded by defocusing the laser head, we applied this technique to creating layered textiles. Cloth menstrual pads often consist of layers of cotton, flannel and wool fabrics to increase absorption while retaining comfort during wear and ability to be washed for reuse. Fusing these pieces together within the laser cutter would allow the pads to be cut and affixed to the layers. By creating a process that could fuse these various layer, the pads can be cut and affixed, thus assembled, within the laser cutter.

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To fuse the layers together, we used no-sew fusible web, a heat sensitive adhesive used to bond textiles together. A layer of the fusible web was first applied to the back of a rectangular piece of flannel which is then positioned on top of another piece of flannel in the laser cutting bed. We then ran a series of tests to determine what speed / power settings and z-axis height is needed to apply enough heat to fuse the two fabrics together without damaging the top layer. This was done by lowering the laser cutter bed by increments of .25” at different settings until the two fabrics were successfully bound together with minimal damage. For our tests, we ran the laser cutter using the etching mode in order to form shapes rather than just outlines. This would allow the textiles to be fused across a greater surface area therefore increasing the strength of the adhesion.  


Our pad prototype is made by fusing and cutting two pieces of flannel in the laser cutter. We designed a pad with specific areas to be fused to maximize flexibility and hold. In the laser cutter, the bed was lowered to defocus the laser and adhere the two pieces together. An outline was then trimmed around the fused areas using normal cut settings. This operation created an assembled, layered pad within the confines of a laser cutter. We also experimented with creating soft toggles that would eliminate the need of velcro or adhesives to keep the pad in place during use. 


The process of fusing textiles within a laser cutter can allow for customized fabrication of pads in both design and materials, along with providing an alternative method for creating inexpensive but functional pads. Further research would include experimenting with layering and fusing three or more pieces of fabric in variable weights and materials to create a design that would maximize absorption and comfort in wearability. This would also involve usability tests in order to determine if this pad meets the needs protection and ease of use for different users.


Udayan Umapathi, Hsiang-Ting Chen, Stefanie Mueller, Ludwig Wall, Anna Seufert, and Patrick Baudisch. 2015. LaserStacker: Fabricating 3D Objects by Laser Cutting and Welding. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software & Technology (UIST ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 575-582. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2807442.2807512

Knife Earring


This knife earring was made for a project in my fabrication class. The design for a retractable blade that can be concealed as a fashionable accessory is based on recent national events and my continual concern of personal safety as a woman and person of color.  Also there seems to be potential for functional earrings or ears as storage space for tools/devices (Earables?). Although there are some design issues that need to be resolved, the overall concept can be expressed through the 3D printed prototype (above). img_5878

I made a paper version of the casing in order to figure out the basic design and sizing. The earring hardware is from the jewelry section of an arts and crafts store and the blade is an X-acto #11 blade. This blade was chosen because of its small size and the opening hole on the base that can be used to pivot around an extruded cylinder that is sandwiched between the two casing pieces.


Above is a screenshot of the casing that was designed in 123D Design. It was my first time using this particular 3D modeling program and I think it’s okay. The interface is clear and simple although I couldn’t find some of the features I needed such as snapping to midpoint. I designed the model so that it is held together by an M3x12 bolt and nut. The model was then printed on a Folger Tech RepRap 2020 Prusa i3 which I had assembled for the class.

Iowa Lakeside Lab Residency Pt 2: Wearable Computing for Plants

Besides the portable workspace project,  I did some other lil projects while I was at Lakeside Lab. One of these projects was thinking through making wearable devices for plants. During my residency I went on many walks in the prairie, some solo, but some with biologists who were able to put names to the plants we observed and connect how these different plants and animals function to create this diverse ecosystem. The idea for a plant wearable stemmed from wanting to observe how a single plants (in this case, milkweed) functions over the course of a day.  This inquiry also posed an interesting design challenge in how to design a “wearable” for a plant. (It is debatable whether or not a plant can actually wear something…)

img_3192 Some bend sensors made using Kobakant’s tutorials that will go on near the base of the plant. Changes in resistance will be recorded as the plant bends throughout the day. img_3197

The metrics I decided to record for the plant included UV input and movement. Luckily I had a sewable UV sensor and accelerometer from Adafruit in my collection of things. Although the bend sensors are great because they are easy to build and customize, it is helpful to have some more complex sensors. To make it easier to assemble the circuit for the plant while I was out in the field, I made these little mounts for the sensors so it would be easier to clip/sew/staple the components together.


I tested different versions of the bend sensor, including a knitted one that didn’t work so well.. img_3321

Here are the components strapped on to the milkweed using twist ties (thanks, Walmart) and connections made via staples and wires. There is a Mayfly data logger at the base in a little plastic bag that reads the data input every few seconds or so and stores it in a handy memory card in a .csv file. The milkweed was selected because of its sturdy nature and that it is an important food source for monarch butterflies and other insects, which might give it reason to want to observe various aspects of its movement throughout a time period. It was interesting to build the circuit onto the plant while standing out in the field – the portable desk did come into use to check the continuity of my circuitry and as a prepping platform.

Unfortunately something happened with the connections of the datalogger and stopped capturing data about 1 hour into the installation and this error was not caught until later.  However this project has potential to continue as a way to hone a process down and work with botanists/ecologists/biologists to collect data that may serve their research and as a design project to speculate how non-humans can wear technological devices.

Iowa Lakeside Laboratory Artist Residency Pt 1: Portable Workspace

One of the stone laboratories at Lakeside. The studio in housed in a similar building behind the hill.

Over the summer I completed a two-week artist residency at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, a biological field research station located on Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa. My goal for the residency was to do an initial inquiry into my proposed thesis area of Field Computing.  This area is an interdisciplinary investigation in the fields of wearable electronics, critical making, ubiquitous computing and citizen science.  I am interested in the intersections of these disciplines to make things(?) that will explore, facilitate, and intervene in relationships between human users, non human users (which include plants, animals and other organisms) and their shared environments. 

During my residency, I was able to explore and develop a few ideas that I had in mind relating to this concept. Besides having the space and time to work on these projects, I also got to meet and talk to various scientists (limnologists, phycologists and ornithologists) regarding the role of citizen science and technology in their fields of study.


Although Lakeside focuses on limnology (the study of lakes), it is located right next to prairie land (restored and preserved). As someone who had not encountered prairie environments until that point of time, I spent a few days exploring and hiking around the Cayler Prairie Wildlife Management Area. Hiking in a prairie is like swimming in an ocean – the grass/plants is relatively the same height as you wade through and the topography rolls in waves. Although it looks subtle, there’s actually a diverse variety of landscapes in a relatively small area.

During these initial hikes, I was curious as to how somebody would build things in this environment, in a similar vein as Hannah Perner-Wilson and Andy Quitmeyer’s Wearable Studio Practice project. While taking some observation notes, I dropped a pencil and lost it immediately in the tall grass. Without any trees or open areas, it would be difficult to construct any makeshift platform or stands.  With this in mind, I prototyped a wearable desk (Portable Workspace) that allows a work space to fold out as needed, with pockets for various tools. This would be attached to the front of the body using a harness worn by the user.

cardboard prototype of portable desk with storage / work areas drawn out in sharpie.


From there, I built a more refined version using neoprene. Neoprene is an interesting material to work with – it’s fairly durable (the fabric I used here is backed with jersey fabric on each side) and doesn’t require any hemming since it doesn’t fray. However, it is tricky to sew since it can be quite slippery with the jersey covering and the slight stretch makes it a little difficult to cut straight lines and feed through a sewing machine. For the workspace of the desk (the middle segment), I needed a rigid material so that you can place things on this surface without any sagging. I wound up cutting up a binder to use as the surface and placed a magnetic strip so that it could hold any small electronic parts. Because it sits below the surface of the neoprene, there’s a “wall” around this area that prevents objects in this area from rolling off.



The completed Portable Workspace prototype! The harness is made out of nylon straps, with carabiners that attach to the grommets on the pack so that it can be worn across the chest. The patch on the front of the pack is from a performance done by Joseph Mougel and designed by Cynthia Brinich-Langlois, two of the other artists-in-residence at Lakeside Lab.



Photos by Desi Gonzalez

Here are some shots of the pack in some different locations. Up top is from the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. And the bottom two are from Camp Guyasuta in Sharpsburg, PA.  Although this project was designed based on the context of the Iowan prairie, it can be potentially used in multiple contexts. With this pack, it is an interesting initial inquiry into how we can change sites of production for technology as it relates to wearable technology, citizen science and environmental monitoring.

Closed Loop Plant system

One of my classes this semester is working on creating speculative habitat systems for plant life on Mars.  Our recent project was to create a closed loop system. My team decided to work on a “Vertical Plant Parfait” in which three different biomes can live symbiotically in a glass container. On the top we have a plant/photosynthesizing layer, the middle is fungi/decomposing layer, and the bottom is the algae/water layer.  We have sensors to detect health of each layer, and a pump runs through the system to provide nutrient/water to the plant and fungi layer. A longer writeup can be seen here.IMG_2371

Plant hammock — suspends our plant while allow organic matter(dead leaves) to pass onto decomposing layer.


External LED light on our setup. Sensors are run on a Raspberry Pi.  IMG_2363

How did we get our shelving through the jar? We made some “hinged” laser cut pieces. This piece was for our fungus layer and has window screen material layered on the top and bottom. IMG_2388

Algae was pumped in at the end.

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Team Member George made a cool Slackbot for our plant! You can ask for a picture!


Our oyster mushrooms are starting to come in and it’s excitingggg!!!!