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Wearable technology

All you need is glove


Inventors don't want you to carry technology, they want you to wear it. An American artist fitted a cellphone into a robotic glove that looks worthy of Iron Man. A Tokyo-based researcher made a glove that replaces the walking stick for the blind. And the best part? They released their designs and technology to the public, letting anyone build copies of the gizmos for free.


Have you ever imagined your phone vibrating in your pocket, but reached in to find it's not there? It's a phenomenon that MIT professor Sherry Turkle calls a "phantom limb" - a term borrowed from medical science for when amputees can still feel pain in limbs they no longer have. And the first time Bryan Cera heard it being used in relation to phones, he was fascinated and sought to literalise it into wearable technology.

"When I see how completely dependent we have become on things like smartphones, I worry about our eagerness to adopt something so fragile and so new into the centres of our lives, " says the US-based artist and inventor.

The project that came to his mind was a glove that doubled up as a mobile phone. The 'Glove One' offered a unique paradox: A cell phone which, in order to use, one must sacrifice one's hand.

"I usually get one of two reactions. Either 'That is useless' or 'Shut up and take my money', " Cera laughs, referring the popular online meme. "I find it so interesting that it can be so futile, yet somehow so desirable. "

He adds that gadgets are increasingly becoming fashion accessories, so wearable computers might be the next hot trend. And something like the Glove One could be combined with the Tacit or other hi-tech gloves.

But Cera is quick to add that Glove One is not an exercise in innovation, but rather a project that asks the question, "What are we willing to sacrifice in order to participate in technology and social media?"

Making The Phone

Cera decided to hack apart a Burg Watch Phone, so he could re-use its circuit, the plastic button-caps, battery, speaker and microphone. However, if anyone wants to build a cell phone circuit, they can use the instructions in the open-source phone project by the High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab.

"Computers are so tiny now that being able to fit a phone in a glove was not hard at all. The challenge came with my desire to make it appear and feel like a literal cross between a prosthetic hand and a cell phone, " Cera says. "After doing a bit of research, I discovered that the Mk IV and Mk V armour gloves from Iron Man 2 were actually 3D printed. This helped me decide that 3D-printing technology would be my best bet for achieving the futuristic look I was after, and would also simplify the process of integrating the circuit and components into the design. "

Using the 3D modelling software Solidworks, he created a model of the glove, which he has made freely downloadable. "If you have some basic understanding of Solidworks, you could quickly customise your own Glove One CAD model, " he says. The 3D-printed components include two "plates" for the back of the hand, which house the cell phone circuit and battery, and the finger segments, which sport the buttons for dialling the phone, as well as the microphone and speaker. After using 3D-printing to make the phone's shell, Cera wired it up with the circuitry and other parts, and proceeded to sand and paint the shell to give it a polished look. And just like that, two months after he started the project, the Glove One was ready. Cera estimates that without accounting for labour, it costs around $340 (Rs 19, 000 approx) to build.

Free To Copy

And now, he has open-sourced his project, giving step-bystep instructions online to let anyone copy and build the Glove One, or improve on it. "I have learned so much from talented and generous people on the web. Open-sourcing the project was to give something back to the communities, " Cera explains. He has certainly gained a lot from working on this project, but the inventor does not plan on pursuing the Glove One in the future, say, to make a wearable smartphone-glove. "On the project's page on Instructables. com, I've gotten all kinds of creative suggestions on improvements I could make or features I could add. My challenge to those people: Create Glove Two!"


Steve Hoefer envisioned a wearable video game in which two blindfolded players wearing headbands - mounted with sensors and motors - would be capable of navigating a maze. The headband would vibrate when users got close to an object, thus telling them to chart a different path.

He put together the headband and took it for a spin. "Walking around a dark house with my eyes closed, I suddenly realised I was seeing without using my eyes! That was much more fascinating than games and mazes and slaying beasts in dank dungeons, " recalls the Tokyobased inventor.

The video game project and the headband were quickly shelved, and Hoefer used that technology for a radical new idea: eliminating the walking stick for the blind. It's called Tacit, and in basic terms, it's a glove that measures the distance to things and translates that into pressure on the wrist.

"Everyone who has tried the device has understood its cues very quickly and started using it successfully within seconds of putting it on, " Hoefer says. "There are some improvements to be made with size and battery life, but even with those concerns it's still a valuable and effective device. "

It costs just $90 (Rs 5, 000 approx) to make and Hoefer has recorded detailed instructions for anyone who wants to build one. "The goal of Tacit is to get into (and onto) all of the hands who need it. "

Making Tacit

The headband was wrought with problems, such as the motors vibrating on one's forehead. "In addition, it would be a challenge to disguise it as anything but some madscience-looking headband, and blind people do care about how they are perceived, " Hoefer says.

So he went with a glove. "It lets the wearer quickly and easily point it at anything they're curious about. "

It's also one-size-fits-most and simple to wear correctly using only touch. The current design uses a middle finger loop to wear and support the device, and a Velcro wrist trap to firmly hold it.

Four ultrasonic sensors are fitted over the knuckles, to sense the distance to objects from one to ten inches. The sensors' reading is processed by a chipset (the open-source Arduino Pro Mini), which controls two small servo motors with cushions on the end. The amount of pressure exerted by the rotation of these motors tells the user how far an object is.

All of these parts are fixed onto a glove that is made out of neoprene fabric, since it's a solid, durable, shock absorbent base for electronics, and is flexible and stretchy so it won't resist movement.

"The electronics are very simple. They're all selfcontained units with no other passive components, " Hoefer says.

Going Open Source

Hoefer decided to open-source his invention because assistive technology is generally expensive, which keeps it out of the hands of those who need it.

"There are several sonar navigation devices commercially available, but the cheapest one costs about $800, " he says. "Also, by open-sourcing it, people can customise the Tacit glove - an important aspect for assistive devices, since no two people experience their disability the same way. "

"It's not my first priority right now, but I'm working to refine the design to both make it work better and to remain affordable, " Hoefer says. "By releasing the designs, others can build and improve on what I've done, apply the same principals to new projects and help people in ways that I haven't imagined. "


MIT DIY Phone: hlt. media. mit. edu/? p=2182 Bryan's Site: bryancera. co. nr Making Glove One: www. instructables. com/id/Making-Glove-One-a-3 D-printed-wearable-cell-p Parts and Price: sites. google. com/site/bryanceraonline/blog-2 /gloveoneprice Steve's Site: grathio. com Making Tacit: grathio. com/tacit Glove Outline: grathio. com/assets/tacit/haptic_glove_gauntlet_outlines. pdf

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