What fuels the “Girl on Fire” LED wearable dress?

It started as the equivalent of dreaming in code, was vocalised on the Tech Women Australia podcast on May 2016, conceptualised on February 3rd 2017 and brought to life the very next day.

This article gives an update and context to my current project the “Girl on Fire” LED wearable dress I am building.

Left: Hand drawn version 1 of the Girl on Fire dress pattern and LED layout. Right: The material framework built the next day.

WHERE IT STARTED - VERSION ONE

After I completed web development immersive at General Assembly I had a renewed sense of confidence — I decided that I could do anything I wanted, so I built my very first LED wearables dress. I was inspired by brands like cutecircuit, Maddy Maxey + Zac Posen. I loved how their designs flawlessly embraced fashion and technology to create statement pieces that wowed the masses. I wanted in on that too!

Video of the first half of the dress lighting up and changing colours with the activated motion detector.

LESSONS LEARNT

  1. Don’t hand sew the circuitry. It takes a lot of time and the circuitry is more unreliable. PLUS conductive thread is expensive! I recommend buying a soldering iron and coloured hook-up wire. It will save you time, money and your sanity.
  2. Plan a more versatile approach to the components. Stick snap fasteners onto the back of the pixels and processor + sensors to allow for easy removal. This also helps if you want to reuse the parts for another project.
  3. Give yourself ample time to complete. I tried to finish this dress in rush, in the final weeks of my GA course. I pulled a few all-nighters, even on the morning of my meet and greet to get this finished and I was super disappointed that I didn’t finish it in time.

WHY BUILD A VERSION TWO?

When I spoke at Girl Geek Dinner in February 2016, I had one slide showing a cutecircuit dress. My talk must have been pretty boring by that point because I noticed everyone started to get excited and take photos of this LED dress being shown. One woman even tweeted at me saying how I was teaching them about wearables — I wasn’t, but it got her attention.

I then started speaking to female high school students through the coderfactory x CommBank #CANchangeratio program. I would take my version one dress in to show the girls what the different components look like and how they feel and to showcase what you can build with code. Again, all of them were immediately excited and it felt like a barrier had been broken in terms of them understanding that learning to code can be applied to any industry, even fashion.

The making of the dress: Mid band completion.

WHY IS THIS EVEN IMPORTANT?

Seeing and feeling the excitement of those around me I decided that it was important to pursue building the dream I had a year ago. What started out as a project to build a pretty flashy dress to cure my curiosity of LED wearables, has grown into something much more symbolic and powerful.

  1. The name “Girl on Fire”: Obviously part taken from the movie Hunger Games it embodies the passion and power I experienced from learning how to code. Fire is a symbol of transformation, much like the transformation of myself, the dress itself and the transformed reasoning behind building v2.
  2. Lights on a dress excite and intrigue: As mentioned above, my experience showing LED’s on a dress gave me the instant attention of my audience. It’s an opportunity to showcase the concepts, components and the driver behind it all — code. If this can break down the barriers for others to be interested in coding, the impact of such a tool can have incredible influence to engaging others to learn how to code and activate creative thinking as to how other industries can integrate and take advantage of technology.
  3. Did I mention it’s built with code…
  4. More women in tech: Naturally the concept of a dress gravitates to our more feminine side, having the privilege of speaking and now teaching female high school students how to code and being able to influence them with not only software but with hardware that they can touch and feel I’m sure will play a big part in how they creatively approach problems and projects they decide to work on in the future. Knowing that nothing is out of reach of their own dreams is so powerful.
  5. Talking piece for the future of wearables: I believe that as we advance with design and wearable technology the term “wearable” for what we understand it to be today will have a completely different meaning in 5–10 years time. Currently the scope of wearables starts from smart watches to VR headsets — imagine a world where the term wearable refers to interchangeable gadgets that snap on to our bodies performing the normal functionalities plus more! My weird theory is that prosthetic technology will become so advanced and accessible that people may elect to self amputate body parts to take advantage of more super human elements. Crazy I know…
Version 2 of the design

WHAT COMES NEXT?

Over the weekend I bought six (6) LED matrices that will be embedded onto the front pleats of the dress. I also bought my very first Raspberry PI Zero! These components make up the bulk of the dress and the hard work is only just beginning.

The tasks ahead include:

  1. Wiring everything together plus mapping the LED’s
  2. Coding the scripts that will run the patterns based on particular motion detection etc.
  3. Forming a strong understanding of power supply requirements
  4. Much much more that I am sure to learn along my journey

If you’re interested in following the journey or you happen to know a thing or two about programming LED’s reach out to me on:
Twitter | Medium | LinkedIn 
I’ll take all the community support and assistance I can get!

Kiah.

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