Arianna Ninh on Alterwear

16 Jun, 2019

Arianna Ninh on Alterwear

The BCNM is pleased to offer several undergraduate research fellowships each year. Undergraduates are paired with our graduate students, who mentor them in research methodology. This year, Arianna Ninh worked on Molly Nicholas' Alterwear. Read more about her experience below.

Over the course of this spring semester, I worked with Molly Nicholas on her Alterwear project to develop battery-less wearable displays that can be quickly customized and updated to support dynamic self-expression. This is part of our ongoing research program related to Cosmetic Computing, which explores wearable technologies to support open and playful self-expression of radical individuality that is free from prescriptive, binary social norms. The displays will be integrated into garments of clothing, such as on a hat, a shirt pocket, or a shoe. Users can use their phone to wirelessly personalize the image on the display with drawings or photos. They can also animate their displays with visual effects that gradually transform the image over time. Our goal is to empower people to flexibly personalize their clothing with their own individual spunk, and observe the collective interactions that may emerge from using this tool over the course of a longitudinal user study.

I acted a research engineer on this project. I was in charge of three different aspects:

  • Prototyping new hardware. I developed my hardware prototyping skills through several different iterations of hardware components.
  • Designing animations and visualizations using Processing. Because the focus on the project is Cosmetic Computing, it was important to us to have a range of aesthetics to fully explore this new medium.
  • Creating an Android app. In the app, users can create custom drawings, take photos, or draw on their photos, and then wirelessly upload their creation to the display.

Since app development was wholly new territory for me at the start of this project, I encountered many challenges in learning how to structure my code, familiarizing myself with the Android programming environment, learning best programming practices for version control, demystifying unfamiliar libraries, and endlessly debugging. In addition to developing the app, I learned a new tool for this undertaking as well— a programming language called Processing— which was quite delightful to experiment with, and I found myself surprised at the sheer diversity of fun visual effects one can create with it. I hope to continue to explore what I can do with Processing in the future.

Looking back, my ventures into app and visual effects development for this project brought many head-scratching challenges, lessons learned, and new software skills to add to my expanded toolkit. Our investigation into how embodied interactions can augment dynamic self-expression and creativity is something that I will continue to ponder, and I look forward to creating my own wearable technologies with the new tools I’ve learned to wield. This concludes my second year working with Molly, and I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from her and see her thoughtful perspective. Under her guidance, I’ve found myself constantly learning and pushing the boundaries of my knowledge and skills beyond the typical scope of coursework, all while having fun and shaping the ecosystem of future interactive technologies.