Prototyping in the world of wearable tech

Oculus VRI’ve been designing and developing for the web for a long time now, and lately with this seemingly large uptick in interest in the Internet of Things and the growing array of wearable technology streaming into the market, the previous tools used for prototyping don’t necessarily apply to the real world in physical applications. With some limited success you could prototype an interface for Google Glass without actually having the device, but without being to install your work on the real deal, it’s imperfect at best. The same idea applies to the various kinds of fitness trackers and smart watches out there too. While the Samsung Galaxy Gear has an AMOLED screen, the Nike Fuel Band uses LEDs. So how do you prototype interfaces and interactions with these devices?

Oculus Rift VR goggles could provide an interesting method for prototyping field of view interactions such as a competitive technology to the Recon Instruments Glasses or Oakley’s Airwave goggles. Through the creative use of masking on streamed video you could overlay graphics from a predetermined source with other information. If purchasing the development kit isn’t your speed, then you could stream video as a HTML5 video object and overlay a couple of masks to create the shape of the goggles, and then use CSS to create the graphics of the display which is overlay on top of the masked video. Like this example here, you can quickly add elements to the overlay to simulate how the user could receive data inputs from the optics. You could also process the video and add some of the overlay intelligence through After Effects depending on the desired results.

Of course this is just one example, and only refer to glasses and/or goggles. So what if I’m working on a watch of some sort, or a piece of clothing? This is where I would turn to the maker community and start looking at Arduino and the myriad of shields and add-ons that you can use to add WiFi to your board, or a bank of LEDs or control various strands of EL wire. Here’s an example of building a Bluetooth Arduino based wristwatch, as well as a dress with a programmable EL wire controlled by Arduino and Lilypad. Lilypad is versatile and small, making it an excellent choice for playing with clothing, plus, it’s not outrageously expensive. There’s also Raspberry Pi to think about, Matt Richardson worked out this bike light/speedometer using Raspberry Pi.

With the influx of Javascript and CSS frameworks available, you can rapidly prototype and iterate many web, mobile and hybrid interfaces for virtually any device out there that’s running a common mobile OS, but getting these prototypes small enough on the hardware size is another task altogether. With all of the activity around the Makerverse now, it’s becoming easier to find smaller parts and easier ways to get them to play nice with a hardware controller that you can program for. You can even run JavaScript on these controller boards like the Espruino.

Maybe that will be the next big Kickstarter project – a wearable platform prototyping kit, like the Arduino starter kit for wearables.

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