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.

Hand-Substrate Interface: Glove prototyping


While working on the conductive temporary tattoos, a wearable glove prototype is being concurrently developed. While wearing a glove creates a barrier for the hand to be immersed in the environment (ie: fully touching the soil), building the sensors onto the glove also allows for a device that can be used repeatedly. Flexible materials along with techniques for e-textiles can also be utilized to create traces that can sit on the fingers comfortably and that are robust enough to withstand the movement of the fingers from bending.

Other glove projects, such as the mi.mu project and the Flora MIDI drum glove,  feature built in components into a glove. They offer interesting insights on how materials and components can be situated in the structure of the glove. For example, the mi.mu uses channels on top of each finger to house the bend sensors so that they are held close to each finger but held securely in place. The microcontroller, components and battery are held in a separate wrist band which can be connected to the rest of the glove, allowing for easy removal and attachment from the bend sensor elements.

The Flora MIDI drum is a project that uses the drumming of the fingers against the surface to play synths. In this project, with accompanying tutorial, piezos are attached to the fingertips of a preexisting glove. These pieces are then attached and soldered to a wearable microcontroller attached to the the back of the glove. Although this piece needs to be plugged into a computer to generate the tones, it provides insight in how the surface of the glove can be embedded with electronics.

However, unlike my glove project, neither of these deal with working directly in a natural environment.  In both instances, these gloves are used for musical performance in which the musician or performer wears the glove and uses the gestures of their hand and fingers to compose and form the music. In the case of the Hand-Substrate Interface needs to be able to interact with the substrate, mostly earth in this case to get a reading. As a result this glove needs to be produced with that interaction in mind in regards to sensor placement and material choices.

In the first image of this post, the initial glove prototype can be used fairly effectively in order to sense soil moisture. Using a gardening glove, two exposed traces made out of conductive fabric are fused to the tips of the index and middle finger using heat-fusible webbing. These trace are then connected to wires which are connected to the surface of the glove using couching, an embroidery technique. With couching, a piece of thread is used to sew around a thicker piece of thread, wire in this case, by stitching around it in equal intervals. This allows for the wire to become attached to the surface while retaining the flexibility. As an initial proof of concept, this glove is effective in obtaining soil moisture readouts. However, the thickness of the glove can create discrepancies in the soil reading and the heavy rubber coating at along the fingertips also can mask the user’s interaction with the soil. This prototype also relies on a separate breadboard and a laptop in order to see the output of the sensor. In these series of prototypes, a custom glove is patterned and designed in order to make a glove that can sit closer to the hand, along with using materials that can allow for environmental interactions. Designs are also considered in how the hardware and output can be housed directly on the hand.

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A custom pattern was created for the glove by utilizing a low-fi patterning technique. A latex glove was worn as a base, while painters tape was applied in strips to cover the exterior. Since the thumb is currently not being used in the final glove, it was omitted from taping, though the other fingers besides the index and middle were covered in case the pattern needed to be modified to account for those fingers. Essentially by covering the latex glove with tape, a casted model of the hand is produced. After covering the glove, a seam was cut off the side in order to free the glove and tape from the hand. Tracing from the fingertip to finger, the fourchette, the part of the glove that gives depth to the each of the fingers is cut out. The taped glove can then be splayed and traced to provide a custom master pattern for producing the prototype.


Once the master pattern is traced, modifications can then made by using tracing paper to change features of how the glove is constructed. For example, traces can be drawn in, along with determining which regions of the glove can be sewn out of different materials.

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The first prototype using the glove pattern was to test out the pattern, along with integrate some different materials into the piece. The “fingernail” area was constructed out of copper taffeta fabric to provide conductive traces, while a mesh netting was used in the bottom and top of the fingers. The fourchette was cut out of a black knit jersey material in a polyester blend, while the palm area was made out of a jersey polyester blend that had cut out details. An 1/8″ seam allowance was added to all the pattern pieces in order to make sure that the glove would still be true to the pattern with all the additional piecing happening at the finger areas.

In constructing the glove, the copper material was first sewn to the mesh netting to complete the top of the finger. The fourchette was then sewn to connect the top of the fingers to the back. In later iterations, it would be advised to sew the fingers to the rest of the glove before sewing them to the fourchette. This would allow for better shaping to occur at the base of the fingers, rather than the puckering that happened when sewn after connecting it to the fourchette. Once the top and bottom hand panels were sewn onto the finger pieces, they were seamed at both sides to create the tubular form for the hand. After sewing all the pieces together, extra material was trimmed off that was covering parts of the ring and pinky finger to allow for less constricted movement. Any fabric that was not sewn into a seam was then finished using a rolled hem to prevent fraying.

This prototype proved to be a fairly successful attempt in satisfying the original goals. This first prototype created a glove that fit well on the hand even when constructed out of different materials. Although there were some fit issue along the middle finger, this may be due to the difficulty of sewing the fourchette onto the fingers given that there are a lot of tight curves that need to be made in order to fit the finger pieces. One other issue with the prototype was the use of the conductive fabric in the “fingernail” region. While this design fits with the anatomy of the hand, the proximity of the two conductive areas do touch when the fingers are placed close together and may compromise the reading of the sensor. Going forward with a second prototype, this issue was taken into consideration when constructing the traces.

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The second prototype for the glove addresses some of the issues in the first glove, including the fit around the finger and how to embed the traces into the glove. This version also used a modification of the pattern to create an open palm area.

To create the traces for this prototype, two strips of conductive spandex were first sewn onto the top of each of the finger pieces using a zig zag stitch. By using a zig zag stitch, this ensured that both of the pieces would be adhered together but retain the stretchiness of both fabrics.  One of the main challenges of this prototype is placing these traces on the finger, as seen in other iterations of the Hand-Substrate Interface using the conductive temporary tattoos.  The movement created by the fingers makes it challenging to rigid materials while allowing the hand to also not be completely shrouded by the material of the glove.  An extra 1/2″ segment of the conductive spandex was left at the end of the fingers so that it could be sewn around the tip of the fingers after the glove has been assembled.

The mesh netting is now used for the bottom of the fingers so that when making contact with the earth, the traces will produce a readout of the ground while the bottom of the hand will be more exposed to the soil based on material choices.

In this prototype, a velcro closure is attached to for the panel around the thumb so that it can be more easily worn with the potential for adjustment. In contrast to the temporary tattoo piece which is a one time use, the glove version will be able to be used multiple times and thus considerations are being made on the overall wearability of the piece.


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!

forage storage

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

Laser cut quilting templates

For a side project I’m working on I am doing a little bit of quilting. I’m not a quilter but have done a little bit and it’s fun, though I think I’m either too neurotic/not neurotic enough to be really into it. One thing that is annoying about quilting, or pretty much most craft fields is that there is always one specialized tool or another that you need in order to complete a task (kind of hypocritical for someone developing specialized tools ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).  When looking at various patterns, many linked to purchasing a quilting template, a cut acrylic piece that is used as a guide for cutting out your pieces.  These can pretty expensive and might not guarantee your size, so I decided to make my own pattern using Adobe Illustrator and laser cut out my own templates.

I wanted to try out Drunkard’s path, a classic quilting pattern.


Each block for this pattern consists of a quarter circle sewn into a square. Various designs can be formed depending on how the blocks are sewn together:

2010_101510-15-10-dpath-ebay  beach-ball-quilt  path

(top to bottom: Tim Latimer, Emily Longbrake, Accuquilt)

Drunkard’s Path was also one of the quilt patterns used to relay messages to runaway slaves in the Underground Railroad. Different quilting patterns were used to display messages, known as the quilt code, to prepare and direct these people for their northern escape. Here are some examples:


(This could be interesting to consider a project tying in the history of the use of these quilt codes and the current refugee crisis in creating messages of solidarity? )

So for this project I started out following this tutorial on making a paper template for Drunkard’s path. Instead of making my template on paper, I followed along using Illustrator and made this template for a 3″ block.


Then you load it into your handy dandy studio laser cutter. img_5805img_5815

Here are the final pieces- I understand that not everybody has easy access to a laser cutter or design programs, but I think it is interesting to think through how to fabricate a thing vs. relying on someone else’s patterns.

To test out my template, I sewed up a test block:img_5807

The fabric pieces are folded to create a center crease that makes it easy to line up the two piecesimg_5808

The right sides of each piece is placed together where the creases meet and also so the two curves are lying tangent to another. img_5809

I started sewing my two pieces together from the creased midpoint. Curves are tricky – definitely a lot of slow sewing and lifting the top piece so it’ll curve.img_5810

A lil sloppy but it works. img_5811

I started from the midpoint again and sewed the other side. img_5812

Here is the final block. It still needs some trimming to make it look cleaner, but cool to see how these pattern comes together. img_5813

For the block on the left, I topstitched the curve so that it lies a bit flatter. Not sure how necessary it is since the whole thing will be quilted, but I like how it looks as well. You can start to see how piecing these blocks together can create various patterns. img_5814


Prototype: Fungi Specimen Collector

In going out on forays with the mushroom club, I wanted to explore the idea of building a wearable device that can be used to collect fungal specimen.


This past weekend I went to a walk in Hartwood Acres to look for various small brown mushrooms and molds. Here is an inventory breakdown of what I usually bring on one of these walks.

  • Basket:
    • egg carton – to collect small specimen
    • wax paper bags
    • foldable knife
    • little shovel (actually I don’t have one, but I should get one)
    • field guide
    • camera
    • compass/whistle
    • rain coat (depending on weather)
    • water bottle
    • snack

Using a basket is nice since everything is within easy reach, it’s light and has a rigid structure so you can put a fleshy soft thing like a mushroom and it will still kind of support it. Other types of bags are fine, including mesh bags or paper brown bags, but obviously not as cool as the basket. Fun fact about this particular basket – this was the basket my parents got when they went apple picking for the first time ever when they moved to New York City from Taipei in the late 80’s. So the sentimental value of this particular basket for me is very high.

With initial sketches, I wanted to incorporate a form of the geographical annotation tool that I had in the water quality monitoring suit that I had sketched out in Iowa. This would allow the user to “make a note” of where a certain sample was collected over the course of their walk. I am also interested in including other sensors such as soil probes and thermometers that can obtain additional information about a location when collecting a specimen.


For design ideas and inspiration, I have been looking at a variety of vests used for fly fishing. These vests are used for outdoor purposes and designed for easy access while the the users’ hands are occupied with fishing activities(?). Here is a selection of vests that I found interesting in terms of material usage or construction methods.

geartest_vest allen_fishingvest filson_foulweathervest clearcreek_volgavest filson_fishingvest

Iowa Lakeside Residency Pt 3: Citizen Science Initiatives

One of the main points of interest for attending this residency was learning more about citizen science initiatives, especially for monitoring water quality.  Lake Okoboji, the lake the lab resides on has been running Cooperative Lakes Area Monitoring Project (CLAMP) since 1999. CLAMP is a volunteer program that monitors areas of the lakes regularly between May and September. img_3335

On my last day of the residency, I was able to go out with Stan, Dick and Leroy, three CLAMP volunteers while they collected water samples, turbidity and temperature at various points on the lake.  After picking up a cooler filled with prepped bottles and equipment for water testing, we set off on Leroy’s boat early in the morning to visit the 5 different spots for testing. Samples were collected at each point and turbidity was measured via Secchi disk and recorded on a datasheet.  In between collection sites, I was able to talk to and ask these volunteers about their motivations for participating in CLAMP. along with the changes that they’ve witnessed in and around the lake throughout the years. img_3336 Upon returning to the lab, we filtered out the samples using this device which drained the water onto a paper filter that is stored in a tube for later processing by the chemists at the lab. img_3186

Along with CLAMP, a hydrological buoy keeps tracks of changes in the lake’s waters. Every ten minutes, the buoy will relay info via radio regarding humidity, temperature, turbidity, wind direction, barometric pressure… etc. The info is online and is available as an app that is connected with other buoys in the world using the Global Lake Ecology Observation Network (GLEON).

I was also able to speak with the Education Coordinator and resident chemist who tests for water quality in assessing what possible challenges they face with water quality monitoring. In thinking along the lines of what tools scientists / field researchers might need out in the field, I made a really low fi prototype of a a suit that a researcher might wear for water quality monitoring (while swimming). This suit would be able to collect various data points surrounding dissolved oxygen, turbidity and water sampling, but also has a “Geographic Annotation Button”, which would be a way to record the GPS points of where a researcher is at the time of collection. This idea came out of observing the volunteers having to rely on visual cues and a clipboard to assess their position and wondering if there was a possible way of “marking” a point when your hands are occupied. The design and placement of sensors on the prototype to some degree is inspired by anatomical placement of organs/bones on the human body. With this design, the suit can draw comparisons to ideas of how our bodies can connect with technology and the environment.

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Some challenges in building this project would be waterproofing the electronics for prototyping and building. I did some initial tests using a bag sealer to contain a flexible textile circuit. However, this might be beyond my skill range and would need to consult some engineering folks on the feasibility of this project.


Hike out to a kettle lake. Doesn’t really have to do with citizen science initiatives, but is an interesting geological formation left over from the glaciers.

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.