Nameless Object #0: Fabric Radio Pre-Study

This prototype was a design pre-study for ‘Design and Irritation’, a dissertation project on exploratory design for utilization during use. I built a new interface for a radio out of fabric, conductive thread and a sewable Lilypad microcontroller. The interface substitutes the usual interface elements of the device with elements that can be found in fashion or artefacts made of fabric. The microcontroller translates the interface input to the radio, which is controlled via transistors.
I tried to use exclusively dry good elements to make the connections. There are, e.g. several layers of fabric to organize the circuits. Those can be connected using metallic pushbuttons. Resistors can be bent on their ends and directly sewed onto the fabric.

The prototype is part of my dissertation project on “Design and Irritation”. I explore how designers can address the original reinterpretation of designed artefacts on different levels. The fabric radio addresses the interface level: While the functions of the radio are familiar, it is unfamiliar to control it via a fabric interface. The material and form of the interface should offer new opportunities for interaction that the usual interface cannot offer. It should also make the function of a radio suitable to be used in different contexts.

The fabric interface replaces the standard interface of a small radio with digital tuner. The tuning, volume control, on/off-button and some memory slots for radio stations are replaced with fabric elements. I replaced all the switches and buttons on the radio with cables to connect them to the microcontroller. Using the small Lilypad prototyping platforms, I made an interface to the microcontroller with plugs and transistors. The transistors are connected to the Lilypad with conductive thread and small pushbuttons, to connect the two fabric layers.

The belt is used to store and recall favourite radio stations. Putting the buckle in one of the holes will select the station. It serves as a multipole digital switch. The buckle is connected to power. When it is closed into one of the holes, one of the “poles” is closed.

Conductive thread has a non-trivial resistance. This can be used to build an analogue sensor. I sewed a considerable length of thread onto a strap. The clasp is connected to power. When it is closed onto the strap, it works as a potentiometer: Closing it at the top will return a low value, closing it at the bottom will return a high value, and the value changes continuously between the two ends of the strap. The microcontroller measures the value and controls the digital potentiometer to set the radio’s volume.

I also use a number of magnetic sewable buttons as switches for digital input: to search and tune stations, to put the radio on and off and to change the band. As they are sewed on, they directly connect with the conductive thread. Resistors are bent and directly sewed onto the fabric. If done well, they have quite a decorative effect.



The volume control buckle.



The hacked radio on the back.



Closeup of the switching transistors.


Publications

Gebrauch als Design

Bredies, Katharina. 2014. Gebrauch als Design. Über eine unterschätzte Form der Gestaltung. Transcript.



Research by

Research
Dr. phil. Katharina Bredies


Research by

Research
Dr. phil. Katharina Bredies

Assistance
Ramyah Gowrishankar

Assistance
Sebastian Wolf