Soft Circuit Gift Guide

Friends have asked me for a wish-list / getting started type post on soft circuits and the LilyPad Arduino.  I’ve been a slacker about getting this posted (folks asked before the holiday season last year), but hopefully it’s not too late for this year – Sparkfun has speedy shipping, and Toronto-local friends can check out Creatron, who will also do phone orders.  Tell them you’re a friend of HackLab🙂

This isn’t exactly a shopping list, but I’ve tried to lay out the supplies that one needs to get going.  To save me a bit of time, when there are multiple options I’m only going to link the one I recommend.  The others can be found by poking around Sparkfun.

  • Either of:
    • LilyPad Arduino and one power supply – coin cell, AAA, or the LilyPad LiPower.  If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend the AAA one.
    • LilyPad Mini and Li-Poly battery. (better for simple projects, the Mini has fewer pin-pads.)
  • Alligator clips for prototyping – the ones Sparkfun has are very expensive; your local hardware store should have cheaper ones, as does Creatron.  Conductive thread for the final sewn circuit – I linked to the 4-ply thread which I prefer, but there is 2-ply as well.  Medium-sized sewing needles, and plan on breaking a few.
  • Clear nail polish for sealing off ends of thread.
  • Programming cable.
  • A bit of folded-over duct tape or felt to make a LilyPad coaster.
  • one or more inputs: there are a wide variety of sensors available. Accelerometers are pretty nifty for controlling your project through movement; light and temperature sensors can be used to make clothing react to the ambient environment.  Switches and buttons let you turn features on and off or cycle through programs.
  • one or more outputs: buzzers make sounds; LEDs, in either single colours or RGB, light up your project; vibe boards give you haptic (physical) output.

If you’re feeling ambitious, the LilyPad XBee allows for cool wireless hijinx, and the Bluetooth Mate when combined with the open source Amarino Toolkit allows your wearable creation to talk to your Android phone or device. Another fun thing to play around with is conductive fabric, which can be used for all sorts of neat things such as capacitive-screen-compatible glove and mitten fingers, and soft buttons.  For the latter, you just make a felt gasket/O-ring and sew a piece of conductive fabric to each side.  The connection is made when you touch the two pieces of fabric together through the gasket.

Leah Buechley’s LilyPad intro is a good place to start.  If you get stuck, google for the error message; if you’re still stuck after that, feel free to ping me for help.

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