HDDG 31: Tech-Fashion, Wearables, OpticSpy, Oh My!

Bradley Ramsey
Published in
7 min readJun 11, 2018


Kitty Yeung and Joe Grand take the stage to talk about Tech-fashion, the wearables industry, and adventures with OpticSpy.

Technology embedded in our clothing and optical data transmissions. What a time to be alive! At the Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic 31, a pair of extremely talented engineers took the stage to talk about some truly awesome developments in the world of technology.

If you weren’t able to make it this time, don’t sweat it, we’ve got you covered. Join us as we recap both of the speaker’s presentations!

Joe Grand: Searching for the Light & Adventures with OpticSpy

Joe Grand, A.K.A “Kingpin,” is a hardware hacker, teacher, advisor, father, computer engineer, TV host, and member of the legendary hacker group L0pht Heavy Industries. He’s also the proprietor of Grand Idea Studio.

Among all of these things, he somehow managed to find time for a presentation at HDDG 31. We suspect quantum mechanics, but we didn’t ask. Joe has been “making and breaking electronics” as he puts it, since the 1980s.

He recently created OpticSpy, an open-source hardware module for experimenting with optical data transmissions. This concept has been getting a lot of attention from a computer security standpoint. Is it possible to capture information from light or potentially steal information this way?

The layout of OpticSpy

This concept fascinated Joe and drove him to pursue his own technology in this field. The idea that light could transmit data began back in 2002 when a publisher paper showed how the LEDs on off-the-shelf modems were blinking directly in tandem with the send and receive data lines.

Joe goes on to explain that his philosophy in electronics is to “stand on the shoulders of giants.” He builds upon things that have been seen or attempted before and creates something greater by rising from that previous plateau.

Joe goes on to explore the origins of this concept, dating back to 1880 when Alexander Graham Bell first experimented with the concept on a failed device called the Photophone.

Joe’s goal was to create an open-source tool for optoelectronic experimentation, with a simple theory that easy to understand, all built with off-the-shelf components from an established manufacturer.

This led him to create OpticSpy, which is an optical receiver that converts light into voltage. It utilizes a range between visible and non-visible light, so you can actually see the origin light blinking during certain wavelengths.

Joe went on to show the origins of the project, which began as a digital receiver built with fiber optics and a red LED/diode that took in Non-return-to-zero data. He used this kit in a class, where students would build it and discover the message encoded in the light.

Joe mentioned that he likes to start with the breadboard style of changing components as you need, before moving on to other prototypes. This allowed him to swap out various aspects of the design in the early stages before moving on to the current one.

After showing a layout of the current version, Joe dived into the various hardware pieces of the OpticSpy. He began with the photodiode that converts light into current. This is also the point where the gain is adjusted by the first potentiometer.

This leads into two stages of amplification. Joe explained that having two amplifiers with less gain reduces the noise that will eventually be put through the system.

The signal is then put through the comparator to determine which portion of the signal is logic level ‘0’ or ‘1.’ The final stage is the USB interface that powers the device. It also takes the output from the comparator and sends it to the computer.

Any terminal program is able to receive the data from the USB to serial adapter. If you’re not dealing with asynchronous data, which is a distinct possibility, you can still use the USB to power the device.

You can tap into test point TP5 and hook that into Arduino or a logic analyzer to deal with data that doesn’t fall into the expected category. Joe went on to show the code for some of the examples in his presentation.

The code used for OpticSpy is quite simple, all things considered.

Joe showed examples of how the signal is cleaned up and amplified to the point where you can begin to decide what the thresholds should be. Once these are set, the signal becomes something that can be translated.

In the final portion of Joe’s presentation, he showcases some demos of OpticSpy, with crucial help from his friend Alvaro, who holds the microphone and assists with the demos, which are quite impressive.

Check out Joe’s full presentation to see the demos in action! Next, we’ll take a look at Kitty Yeung’s presentation on tech-fashion and her own creations of artistic wearable tech.

Kitty Yeung: Tech-Fashion and the Wearables Industry

Kitty Yeung is an artist, maker, fashion designer, musician, and PhD physicist! She’s based out of Silicon Valley, California and currently works as a creative technologist and senior program manager at the Microsoft Garage.

Her early career was focused on hardcore scientific research and academics, while also pursuing her artistic dreams though paint, music, and graphics. With a PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University and some research experience at Intel, Kitty discovered a perfect way to integrate her love for art by combining it with science and technology through tech-fashion design.

You can find out more on her website. For her HDDG 31 presentation, Kitty came dressed in a solar-powered outfit that charges your phone while you’re walking around.

When designing the outfit, Kitty realized that she would need to elevate the solar panel for maximum efficiency, but that would also look a little odd to observers. She decided to embrace it, and took an avant-garde approach. The result is a pretty stylish piece of clothing:

Kitty Yeung’s solar-powered outfit that charges your smartphone.

Another one of her early designs was a constellation dress that utilizes the Intel Curie chip, which can be trained to recognize gestures and display various constellation light patterns on the front of the dress.

Kitty goes on to showcase other pieces of clothing she’s worked on that combine her own art with all kinds of technology. She doesn’t tie herself down to any one type of hardware; she always looks for what makes the most sense.

While some of her designs began with Arduino Uno, she quickly realized that this hardware was too bulky for her needs and changed over to Microduino, which is a layered microcontroller that you can place modules on.

This hardware has powered other dress designs, such as one that uses EEG and WiFi to change colors and patterns based on brain signals, and a dress with a flower that opens and closes while displaying various colors.

Kitty was able to showcase twelve of her designs at San Francisco Fashion Week in 2016, half of which had microcontrollers embedded in them. Her vision is inspired by nature and astronomy.

One of Kitty’s dress designs showcased at San Francisco Fashion Week 2016

As part of her current projects, Kitty also described a unique way of embroidering lasers into clothing by weaving thin optic fibers into the fabric, which results in a much brighter display than LEDs.

In addition to clothing, Kitty also works on various wearables, such as fingernails that light up and change color, or goggles that can change from opaque to transparent by utilizing Adafruit LCDs connected by Bluetooth.

She made a joke about this by describing a scenario where people wearing the goggles could switch from opaque to transparent when they are checking someone else out in what she called a “physical Tinder.”

All of this led to a large interest from people who weren’t makers themselves. Kitty began to explore ways to turn her prototypes into products. She discovered that there was a large obstacle between embedding tech into clothing and the limitations of current fashion.

Kitty envisions a future that reduces waste and empowers both creative and logical approaches to fashion and tech

She also ran into problems trying to find a service or manufacturer that would allow her to submit a file and receive clothing based on her designs. This is one of many hurdles designers must overcome to start a B2C business.

This is true for both high-tech and low-tech fashion designers with unique ideas or different ways of doing things. Manufacturers struggle to see a market for these types of things and therefore refuse smaller orders.

It is Kitty’s hope that we can find a way to bridge these disconnects and create affordable tech-enabled clothing. She envisions a future where we can select combinations of garments and accessories much in the same way that open-source hardware combines modules.

In this way, there’s a guaranteed order that would reduce the current levels of waste in the industry. To achieve this vision of a technology-fueled future for fashion, there needs to be a combination of education and research towards improving and optimizing the industry from both an artistic and economic standpoint.

Check out Kitty’s full presentation to see some of her designs in action!



Bradley Ramsey

Technical Writer at Supplyframe. Lover of dogs and all things electronic.