Human Breadboards

The idea behind Human Breadboards grew out of the Education group discussion at the 2015 eTextile Camp (there is a detailed post the about breadth of these discussions here). Working collaboratively, we developed a non-kit-kit called the Kit of Process, which is a online library of swatches designed for educators to learn and teach eTextiles. We spent a lot of time sharing experiences and ideas, and the Human Breadboards came a bit later.

Human Breadboards came about when we started to think beyond the idea of a static swatch, and centre ideas around learning in multiple dimensions. As a concept it was not as developed as much as some of the other ideas we had, however discussions were (are) happening right at then end of the camp, on the train home, and on email, so we are hoping to developing this idea much further. For now though, I’ve made some illustrations that punctuate some key points we discussed to give an overview of the idea surrounding Human Breadboards.



As part of our teaching we use swatches to illustrate concepts. 28 of us laboriously made, and lovingly exchanged 28 swatches for the eTextile swatch exchange. Hannah and Mika’s DIY site, How to Get What you Want, is crammed full of intricately sewn swatches, and is a huge inspiration. A swatch is a microcosm: a small insight into a much bigger picture. It is the tip of the ice-burg, and it holds a world of potential inside. In creating a new swatch we are simultaneously cataloging knowledge and developing skills, which is the premise on which our education group developed the Kit of Process.

We love swatches. However, we also understand their limitations. One of which is that a swatch is an abstract object: through their non-representational form (usually square) and static nature, swatches could be confusing or misunderstood by a learner.



So how about we get our swatches and link them to each other. We make them modular, a swatch connects to a number of different swatches: inputs, outputs, processing -kind of like a fabric little-bits. We give our swatch more dimensions, possibilities, and functions. And we start to tell stories.



And what happens if we go even further, and we give our modular swatches space?

This is what we started to test, and began to ask at the camp: what do we learn when we are leaning with reference to people, the body, the space around us? and how do we are respond to movement, to the heat of the summer, and moisture of the air?

An underlying foundation to eTextiles is that it is a spatial discipline: it is either about the body, place, or environment. And, more often than not, it is movement based. This is where Human Breadboards exists, it is a prototyping tool, just like a regular breadboard, however the prototyping exists in the same dimensions as the discipline. This is the beginning of Human Breadboarding.



Above are some of the thoughts and ideas we discussed in our group, but did we actually make a “human breadboard”?

Yes! At least, we made some initial tests to develop a prototype of a Human Breadboard* that uses connectors, wearable swatches, and wearable sensor readings (in progress) on the body. Testing the swatches was more complex than we had anticipated. The big issue was connections (as always), and we developed some custom connections as a solution.

*a prototype of a prototyping tool, now that’s some meta goings on!

DSC01683 DSC01681

Custom connectors up close.


Some quick sketches of formats: swatches on a belt, a top, or as gloves.


A wearable swatch in action.

The Human Breadboards concept resonates with a lot of the work I’ve been doing in education over the past year or so, and I hope to research more into how multi-dimensional learning* could be used in teaching traditionally technical subjects (such as programming and electronics). I’ll be starting an MA course this month (more on that soon), and I’d like to take the multi-dimensional-technical-learning road in my research.

*a term I just made up, but as with most things you think up, I am pretty sure there must be a whole body of research with the same name, and I hope to find that soon.


eTextile Summer Camp


A few weeks back I arrived safely home from what was an inspiring, fascinating thought provoking, and utterly delicious eTexiles Summer Camp. The camp was geared around eTextiles and soft-circuitry, and is an annual event for practitioners, artists, and researchers making work in those areas. Almost 40 of us camped out for a week in the French countryside. We were staying at Les Moulin de Paillard, a beautiful mill-turned-potters-studio-tuned-contemporary-art-space over looking a corner of the Loir, now run by artists Shelly and James. The week was was stacked full of geeking out on materials and processes, fascinating discussions with focus groups, workshops, huge dinners next to the river, chickens, much wine, new friendships, and bloom the cat.

I am going to attempt to briefly summarize some of what happened at the camp. If you are interested in finding out more about the camp in general, have a look at their site. Or you can see at the images on flickr in the links below.

1. Education Focus Group
For most of the camp I joined a group that focused on Educational Toolkits for eTextiles, I collaborated with Emilie, Anja, Lara, Zoe, Liza, and Wendy and we disused and shared our ideas around etextiles education.


2. Kit of Process
Our group discussions lead us down the Kit of Process path: a kit that functions as a learning and teaching tool. It is not a “kit” in the traditional sense, as there are no components, but it is a kit in that it is a collection of parts that can be assembled to make something. We were specifically interested in process, not final outcomes, so when using the kit you would not be making a product, instead you are making “swatches” which are part of the process of making of a product (hence the name).


The format of the kit would be an online library of resources, and through the process of making the kit, you are learning, and also developing a physical library of your own resources for teaching.

If you are interested in learning more about the education group, you can check our group post, which goes into much more detail and has lots of lovely pictures.

3. Human Breadboards
Human breadboards (HBs) grew out of the Kit of Process discussions. We didn’t have a lot of time to develop the idea, but the initial concept is that HBs are real-time-real-space prototyping tools that allow students to learn in context. eTextiles by nature is a spatial, environmental, and physical discipline, and we spent some time trying to understand how this translated to education tools.


I’ve written a bit more about HBs here, and I am really interested in developing some of these ideas further.

4. Printing Galore
I was very inspired and fascinated by the techniques the print focus group were making. The image above shows some of their experiments.


I tried out some tests using liquid crystal and thermochromatic, and really excited about integrating these techniques into some of my live animation work….but I am somewhat put off by the hefty price tag on a jar of this paint. May have to get a piggy bank. See more pics of the print room here.

5. Laser Looms
Zoe lead a wonderful weaving workshop using laser cut looms. Laser looms are an accessible way to make some lovely weaving quite quickly. The design is simple and can be reproduced by anyone in the world (providing you have some kind of CNC cutting device. See more image of the workshop here, and some of the looms I made at the Bristol hackerspace after the workshop here.


Ideo Residency

All the way back in April I made this rather fun “concept” film about how blooming wonderful our hands are, and the absence of this wonder when using a phone.

The film was part of an application for the Ideo Fortnight residency. And low and behold the lovely folk of Ideo liked my ideas, and I was selected to be one of the Artist in residence in Ideo’s London office.

I was the fourth and final artist to be part of the studio last July (the other artists were Alan, Jacob, and Natsai). And although I loved every-designery-minute of the fortnight, it was incredibly challenging. Through the input of the studio, and (somewhat unfair?) pressure I put on myself, I achieved more that I thought would be possible in 2 weeks.

I spent 2 weeks working on some ideas gearing around storytelling, books, and embedded technology that I have been tinkering with for a few years now -some of which I presented at BV studio back in 2012. In the end I made a really lovely book that tells stories by connecting to a phone (or this this case a tablet), and we had a wrap party (which included lots of pizza, beer, and interactive edible music) to share the ideas we played with over the fortnight. There is loads of room for development and I am working on the next phase of this concept. More details and picture of the process can be found on the Fortnight micro site.


Testing and developing ideas with the wonderful and lively Ideo team.


Small prototypes of the pages

outside_700outside1_700 copy

The book unfolds like a paper theatre


Device in place and the pages trigger animations to tell the story.

All images by Alex Whiting

Moving to the UK

The summer is nearly over, and I have finally planted my little feet back in Bristol. Dave and I moved ourselves via various European destinations back to sometimes sunny sometimes rainy England.

I am sad to leave SF, but my summer has been so busy that I have been distracted* by what that actually feels like, and I am just starting to process the loss of a city we made home for 2 years. A lot happened in that time, and we both grew, in ourselves and in our work. And whist I try to process what it all means, I’ll try not to wax too emotional on you all and leave you this with picture of Dave and I, with our friend Justin, packing up our little Mission apartment. Very serious business.


*Posts about the summer “distractions” coming up!

All *new* bingo design

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 12.19.40 PM

Update: we’ve remade the Arduino Error Bingo. Doesn’t it look fab? I made a few design changes that make it easier to use and more like the Arduino IDE, and also made some spaces for students to add errors that are not in the grid. Tried and tested by some very happy Arduino Error Champions.

DOWNLOAD the new version here and play error bingo today!