2014-08-14

Co.Labs

Visualize Your Favorite Music... On Your Shirt

Three-D flexible circuit boards are the key to dynamic digital clothing. And it looks awesome.



If you’re into wearables, techno, and raves then you’re going to want to check out the new Sync shirt created by Crated, a design consultancy and R&D lab based in New York City. The company describes Sync as an “an audio responsive VJ Shirt” that visually connects its wearer to the background music in a club. This visual connection comes from an LED-laden patch that is inserted into the front of the Sync shirt that pulses at varying degrees of intensity based on what music is playing.

Early sketches of the Sync VJ shirt.

Crated says the Sync VJ shirt was inspired by the emergence of visual DJs that use light as much as sound in their performances at some of the most progressive clubs in New York, London, and Europe. What the Sync shirt does is allow clubbers to be active participants in the light shows instead of just passive watchers.

While light-up garnets are nothing new, the Sync is on the cutting edge of visual wearable tech because of the underlying technology used to create it. Most fashion wearables that have visual elements such as lights often have wires running throughout the fabric of the garments. But Crated has done away with the wires in Sync thanks to its collaboration with BotFactory, a startup that is currently Kickstarting Squink--the technology that allowed Crated to print super thin and flexible circuit boards right on the patch that powers Sync. Most impressive of all, thanks to Squink, Crated says they prototyped Sync in just 24 hours.

“Sync was a collaboration inspired by BotFactory's Squink,” says Madison Maxey, CTO at Crated. “We had met the team about a month earlier and were so impressed by the implications for Squink, especially after we had run into come frustrating PCB troubles with an earlier project. We were excited to see BotFactory crowdfunding and decided to propose a collaboration using Squink boards in wearable technology, as they're exceptionally flexible and really beautiful if properly designed.”

As you can see below, the Squink looks like your typical 3-D printer, but it has a dozen nozzles, which allows it to print circuits rapidly.

The Squink at work.

“The real magic is in the conductive cartridge that makes the traces,” Maxey says. “Essentially, you upload an image or Gerber file of your circuit and Squink can print it in about five minutes. There's a pick and place element as well, allowing anyone to quickly prototype circuits. Mari [Kussman, CEO and cofounder at Crated] and I are massive fans of the team. They're total hackers at heart.”

According to Squink’s Kickstarter page, BotFactory came up with the circuit board printer because electronics fabrication is an expensive and time-consuming process--especially if you’re a small startup. “Large manufacturers are expensive and have a long turnaround unless you want to create hundreds of boards, and there is no easy solution when you want to prototype quickly from home,” the company says.

So the creators of Squink wanted to give the same speed and flexibility to hardware makers that software developers enjoy. And according to Maxey, the team behind Squink has succeeded wildly in their goal.

“Hardware developers can save time and money with Squink, as you don't have to play the whole PCB waiting game or buy chemicals to etch your own,” says Maxey. “Our previous projects took weeks of waiting and testing PCBs to have functional hardware, but we were able to make Sync in 24 hours since we could rapidly iterate on boards.”

Squink printing on Mylar.

“For the wearables space, Squink is great as it prints boards on paper, so projects can be ultra thin," says Maxey. "The patch that responds to music on Sync has a battery and microcontroller onboard, meaning the patch itself could be removed, and attached to another garment without any additional wiring. Often wearable tech prototypes have wires running everywhere. We were quite pleased that Squink allowed us to make something that looks clean from phase one.”

Currently the Sync VJ shirt is a proof of concept but Crated says it’s exploring a consumer-ready version of the shirt that can be worn to concerts and festivals. Squink is currently seeking $100,000 in funding on Kickstarter.




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