Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#TechTuesday: Why Do We Need More Women Leaders in the Wearable Industry? | Women 2.0

Originally posted here:
#TechTuesday: Why Do We Need More Women Leaders in the Wearable Industry? | Women 2.0


The founder of a new tech bracelet touches on why women are needed in the wearable tech industry to make products more appealing for women. 

By Jing Zhou (Founder, Elemoon)

In 2010, I moved back to China from New York to launch my first tech startup. Since then I have built and sold one of China’s first rich-media mobile ad companies, and developed a tamagotchi-like social app for young women to communicate with their best friends. I had two epiphanies while doing these projects. 

The first happened while I was running the mobile ad company. I reconfirmed that the majority of digital consumers are women, yet far too few products are tailored to them. This motivated my team and I to create a more emotional digital experience for women, spawning the social app, elepon. 
We saw a lot of smiles when girls were playing with elepon, but we also realized that there were limitations in the app experience. Our users wanted something tactile, something that they could touch and smell—something physical. We started brainstorming how we might marry the app with consumer products. 

A year ago, the emergence of wearable technology captured our imagination, but none of the products on the market truly inspired us. We instantly knew this was a huge opportunity. So there came the second epiphany: the utilitarian and fashion value that hardware could bring is limitless. 
We decided to combine software and hardware to evoke a truly emotional experience and make technology a bigger part of people’s lives.

Wearables made by men for men can be a problem. 

Since most of our team members are women, it’s always quite easy for us to recognize products made by Silicon Valley men for Silicon Valley men. The first time we wandered around the wearable section at an Apple Store in New York, we saw a lot of group-think. Almost all of the products were in the health and fitness category, and there was an unrelenting hype for smart-watches. But most of these products focused on function while ignoring form. They lacked personality, sex appeal and just weren’t pretty! A wearable is something we incorporate into our lifestyle—it’s not enough that something works, it also needs to be attractive and reflect our taste. One month into the design and development of our product, we saw the media calling for more fashionable wearables. 

Here’s an awesome quote from Wired Magazine’s cover story Why Wearable Tech Will Be as Big as the Smartphone. “Wearable devices—technology that people will want to display on their bodies, for all to see—represent a new threshold in aesthetics. The techcompanies that mastered design will now need to conquer the entirely different realm of fashion. And that could require technologists to unlearn a great deal of what they think they know.”

What can women bring to the wearable world? 

By being “superficial.” 

As Wired magazine pointed out, wearables have to look good first. When we started rethinking wearables, we made sure to think untech: Whatever we ended up making had to be beautiful even when not activated. We decided to stay away from things that have little emotional attachment for us, such as watches. We also didn’t want to waste effort on making things that smartphones can already handle well, like step-tracking. 

Everyone on our team is obsessed with color and Native American jewelry. We have an eclectic taste in fashion and love wearing accessories, but all we were seeing in the market were these bland rubber wristbands.

So we asked ourselves: What if we could have a bracelet that changes color and pattern to match whatever we wear? We all liked that idea, and tried to recreate the sensation of traditional jewelry with new material and interactive features. The first thing we nixed was an electronic screen. 
Thinking untech encouraged us to avoid too many features and simplify the user interaction. We didn’t want to overwhelm the user. We paid attention to how people naturally interact with a designer bracelet. Nothing beyond tapping, rubbing or shaking. 

However, our thinking untech approach also created some major technical challenges. Smart jewelry really set the standard high for design and engineering. As creative thinker Matthew E. May articulates, “Elegance is simplicity found on the far side of complexity.” Even though our hardware team had 10 years of experience in making smart devices, we found ourselves in uncharted territory. After we made our working prototype in June, our male collaborators were psyched about its tech capacity and wanted us to unlock more features. We said no. 

Innovation is born out of diversity. Engaging talent with different culture backgrounds while giving an equal voice to women is crucial—especially in such an interdisciplinary field as wearable tech. And beyond the fitness and health niche, there’s something broader called lifestyle. This is a trend particularly driven by female consumers who are willing to spend more money for something that truly speaks to them. But the only way to speak to them is to make sure that their voice is integrated into the product, from concept through completion. 

What wearable tech would you like to see in the future?

Photo via Elemoon Facebook.

Original at http://women2.com/2014/08/05/techtuesday-need-women-leaders-wearable-industry/#lbB4t6xkGMDgPKr4.99

Monday, February 24, 2014

OpenKnit: 3D Printing Knitted Clothing

As reported on boingboing, OpenKnit is a new open-source knitting machine that can "3D print" knitted clothing that has been designed in a computer program and saved in a digital file.

Inspired by the open-source 3D printer Reprap, OpenKnit is entirely open source, costs less than $500, and can knit a complete garment in under an hour. Here are some examples of garments knitted by OpenKnit:

With its focus on open-source and personal fabrication, OpenKnit very much fits within the spirit of the Maker Movement. It shows how the open sourced computerization of textile creation can take the power out of the hands of huge clothing corporations and their mass-production models, and give it back to consumers, who can be free to circumvent traditional forms of clothing acquisition, customize their garments to make them unique rather than mass-produced, and have a sense of agency over the creation of their clothes without having to take the time to knit them the traditional way.

Openknit also brings the history of computation full circle: the first "computer programs" were punched cards that told Jacquard looms what patterns to weave. Computation and textiles have been more intimately connected to each other throughout history than most people think.

Openknit: Challenging the corporate hegemony over the clothing industry, one 3D-printed beanie at a time.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Modkit Coders and LilyPad Stitchers "Create, Innovate, Inspire" at South Fayette School District

Earlier this month, the Creativity Labs (Sophia, Naomi & Diane) returned to the South Fayette School District in the Pittsburgh, PA area to provide another e-textile professional development workshop to follow up on the one conducted in Summer 2013. The district is gearing up to do a LilyPad Arduino project with its entire fourth grade (plus selected MS Art & Home Ec), as a part of its innovative STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Studio, so all of South Fayette's fourth-grade teachers attended, as well as its STEAM, Art, Home Ec teachers and technology coordinators. The workshop also shared e-textiles for the first time with teachers from two of South Fayette's partner schools: Fort Cherry and Manchester Academic Charter School.

Teachers at the South Fayette e-textile PD work on their LilyPad projects.

The e-textile project taught at the workshop involved the ProtoSnap LilyPad Development Simple, a kit that includes a LilyPad Simple sewable microcontroller, four sewable LEDs, and a sewable buzzer that plays musical notes. Teachers sewed these components with conductive thread onto a t-shirt specially created for this purpose.

One teacher's LilyPad project. The orange flower with the buzzer on it has snaps so the buzzer can be detached for washing. This is one of the many innovative ideas that emerged during the workshop.
For the coding, teachers used the visual block-based programming interface Modkit Micro, which makes programming various Arduino microcontrollers easy and kid-friendly. The teachers used Modkit Micro to program the LilyPad, which told their LEDs to flash in various patterns and their buzzers to play musical tunes.
A teacher customizes her shirt with beautiful decorations that also serve to disguise the electronic components.
The "Create, Innovate, Inspire" slogan was a very apt choice for a shirt that would feature e-textiles. Making an e-textile project necessarily involves creating. Every one of the Creativity Labs' e-textile workshops has prompted innovations to emerge, whether in the way the electronics are used, in the way the participants personalize their work, or in their Modkit programs. And we also hope that these projects inspire people to become more interested in computing and electronics. It's wonderful that South Fayette, Fort Cherry, and Manchester are sharing e-textiles with their students, and we at the Creativity Labs are excited to be a part of this creativity, innovation, and inspiration!

Once again, we thank Aileen Owens, Director of Technology and Innovation for South Fayette, who coordinated this amazing workshop,  to all of the wonderful, creative participants for their enthusiasm and thoughtful participation and to the school district's administrative officials who took time from their busy schedule to stop in and lend support to this tremendously ambitious endeavor.