Electromew - electronic wearables and art by Rain

I <3 0X0 - LilyPad Arduino wearable / mobile artwork & game, Sept 2010

I <3 0X0 is an interactive artwork, game, musical fancy and experiment in conductive Velcro. I created it to test the usefulness of conductive Velcro. I wanted to make something that was both interactive and interesting to the user. After much pondering a simple interactive game of noughts and crosses seemed like something viable and I could aim for.

At the time, as far as I could tell from searching online, not much had been documented on conductive Velcro and it's uses. I found one project credited to AnaLou where it had been used as a toggle switch for LEDs (light emitting diodes) on a hat.

So I wanted to create something interactive, as I could find no other documentation for conductive Velcro, some sort of plaything seemed an interesting idea and after some pondering I decided that the 3 x 3 grid system used for a simple game of noughts and crosses would be something that would be both limited and simple in terms scale, i.e. a maximum number conductivity points and a square grid that would be easy to contain.

My schematic design for this artwork has 9 tracks of conductive thread stitches that lead back to nine digital LilyPad Arduino pins. There are 22 pins on the LilyPad Arduino 12 of which are digital I/O so having nine tracks of conductive thread was not a problem. I decided on a stylised heart shape for the design and placement of components, as I wanted the artwork to be attractive. I also chose the LilyPad arduino components and sewing of conductive thread to all be visible and designed to be part of the aesthetic of the artwork, so that the user is reminded that this is an electronic artwork.

At this stage I wrote the basic bones of the underlying code, as a 'sketch' in the Arduino integrated development environment (IDE).

Considerable thought went into devising how to connect the objects that would become the physical noughts and crosses. I would need a way of discerning noughts and crosses physically as well as in the code, so decided the 3 x3 grid for each placed nought or cross would be made up of three rails of connected conductive Velcro. The noughts and crosses would have two corresponding rails of fuzzy Velcro on their undersides, but would join to two differing rails on the grid.

After making a first set of noughts and crosses and connecting their underside Velcro rails with conductive thread, testing revealed that they cross-connected the rails in a bad way, which meant an effective circuit was created where none existed in the empty parts of the grid where no object was placed. After much testing and thinking about how to right this problem, crocodile clips and diodes showed it was necessary to implement a diode in each of the objects to push the current in one direction. This setback cost the project over a week in time as new noughts and crosses were made from scratch.

With the new noughts and crosses made and working okay on the conductive Velcro rails it was time to revisit the code. The project needed some music to play when a game was won, so I chose two old classics - can you guess what they are? A tune was also needed to signify a stalemate situation in the game and I chose ' The Death March', which harks back to early arcade games where it was often played alongside a 'game over' message. The music was transposed into simple notes that could be played by the LilyPad Arduino buzzer and then entered into the code as frequencies.

It was rather difficult and frustrating to get the tempo and notes to the music to play on the buzzer convincingly, so I sought the help of hacker Ciaran Anscomb to transpose the three pieces of music I had chosen for this project and write a bespoke music routine for me. This took quite a bit time and code experimentation, but I am happy with how it has turned out.

With the hardware and code running as expected and reasonably confident that all the conductive thread tracks and respective knots were all working properly and not touching each other or fraying, I finally tidied up the artwork by backing it onto some coloured fabric and embellishing with star sequins, which also acted as a way of securely sewing the two fabrics to each other. One of the risks of just sewing around the edge of the heart to join the backing to the front fabric, is that when the noughts and crosses are lifted off the grid after each game, the fabric might become stretched or torn from the pulling off from the Velcro rails.