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Make: 43 — Wires and Threads


Electronics shrink. Power requirements lessen. Capabilities compound. Processing speeds skyrocket. Interfacing options multiply. Today’s microcontrollers and microsized computers greatly surpass those of even just a year ago, making almost any project feasible. And some of the hottest projects right now come from the world of wearables.

What is a wearable, exactly? Some call the space “wearable electronics,” others “wearable computing.” We see it as something far broader than that. Wearable technology can be advanced electronic sensors and displays combined with everyday apparel, like Io Flament’s brainwave-sensing beanie (see page 60) and Jonathan Cook’s Open-Source Smartwatch (page 54), but it also includes the futuristic under-the-skin projects of a few daring body augmenters (page 53), as well as the mechanical technology in Keahi Seymour’s Bionic Boots (page 44).

In this issue of Make: we guide you through these examples and more. But first we’ll explain all the latest trends in electronics prototyping boards — including advanced wireless communication protocols — and which boards to keep an eye on. All of them smaller and more powerful than ever. Plus, build a Shishi Odoshi fountain to scare away animals from your garden, make two(!) R/C airplanes that are great for beginning pilots, capture stunning close-up photos with a microscope and a smartphone, and install a climbing wall in your backyard that doubles as a play structure.





4 Fun Flora Projects

4 Fun Flora Projects

Think back to your first wearable tech experience: maybe it was the communicator badges in Star Trek, the palm flower crystals in Logan’s Run or the man-turned-machine in Terminator. We...


Categories: Electronics


  • woody

    This reminded me of my interesting project that never went anywhere due to my own failing. In the late ’60s I obtained samples of some newly introduced high power 1 watt IR LEDs. Wanting to do something with them I put together a multi-LED IR radiator and used it to illuminate an area of my body and viewed this area in the dark with an IR sensitive silicon target vidicon video camera I had earlier built. To my amazement the image very clearly showed the complex venous system under my skin to a depth of more than a 3-4 millimeters as dark paths on white skin. I showed this to a doctor friend of mine and he thought it would be useful to localize skin and other sub-surface tumors. The IR radiation is absorbed by the blood flow and showed as clear dark paths on the image. This experiment demonstrated an early simple but much less costly form of IR imaging than traditional realtime LWIR equipment. Even with the encouragement of my friend I failed to pursue this invention due to other tasks. We were very surprised how effective this novel use of these new HP IR LEDs turned out to be.

    • eva

      Gosh! Is it too late to go back to work on this idea? I am impressed!

      • woody

        Hi Eva; nice to see you followed me here. I long since determined that with the rapidly falling cost of long wave infrared imaging the method I was using would not only be more crude, it would be much less sensitive. Back in the 60s my scheme would be considered somewhat of a breakthrough for it’s cost but with the advent of drastically improved and affordable passive LW IR imaging today it isn’t worth pursuing. Today a LWIR passive imaging system can define temp. gradients of much less than .01 deg. making it a vastly superior technique. Back in the 60s the science wasn’t what it is today for this type of imaging.

        On the subject of politics, just today I met some of my wife’s relatives at a party. They are mostly uninformed but well educated liberals with the typical knowledge gained from the MSM. Her lawyer cousin is convinced that the minimum wage must be drastically raised since these people cannot live on such low income. I asked if he thought $50/hr. would be enough. He though that was excessive but thought maybe half that would be fair. I replied that we would then just have a lifelong supply of well paid hamburger flippers. I said, do you think they would ever quit this job to try and improve themselves? He didn’t have an answer.

        • eva

          RE: Min wage, I have tried to explain this to people, as in 1960, I was paying $3 a day plus bus fare for a full time maid, $15 a wk, later on, it became $15 a wk for two days, then a day, and next, a half day. At a half day, my maid had the job of ten people, yes, she was making more, but nine people had no job. I think training, talent, job skills, and education should mean something and of course, work ethic. Today, many just do not get it. A friend’s son was living in Sweden, I think he was teaching in a college, he told us that there pay was basically pegged to ed level, thus doctors made about the same as his son. I understand that doc’s in Canada do not make salaries like in the US, way back had a friend from Canada, doc dad retired, moved to Florida and took a state medical job there. I dislike putting fuel in a car! We are old enough to recall service station’s, where a person not only put the gas in, CKD tires, water, battery, and windshield, etc, as part of the service. That is also why we no longer have knowledgeable staff in stores, like in old Sears, a person was in a dept that knew appliances, or tools, or sewing machines or whatever, now you cannot even find a person much less someone knowledgeable. Of course, same goes for buffet and fast food restaurants, more do it yourself and do away with staff. If we pay bottom workers $25 an hr, what incentive is there to get an education? My first job, in HS was $0.65 an hr, boss paid others $0.50 because they had dropped out of school! After HS, I was tel opr for $1.12, min wage was a dollar. Years later, I went to college to be a teacher. Even then, it was difficult to get students to get interested in an ed, as dad was making more driving a truck w/o a HS diploma than his teacher was making! Again, if bottom pay is twenty five, what do those with more ed make? People making such decisions do not seem to comprehend that if paying someone to work for you, you have to be making more money than them! I had a teacher in HS, must have been good as I still recall several things from then. He said if we took all money and divided it out equally, that in X no. of years, it would he back in the same hands. People that can handle money can and those that cannot are always broke. I worked in real estate for years and observed that many people who made great money could not come up with two to five thousand dollars to buy a house. Some could not come up with earnest money. That is what caused the housing crisis, sorry, some people do not deserve a house, they cannot come up with the money for payments, insurance, taxes, utilites and related house ownership expenses. The people that could not qualify under normal rules could not pay for a house, and many lost them. I would recommend people shoot for one wk take home pay for a house pmt, they could qualify for more, but I said, the wife will get pregant, the washer will die, you need a cushion and not be maxed out. People who go to rent to own for furniture, TV’s, appliances and such can not save to buy a house. Same with buy here pay here cars, credit no problem. I noticed at a pawn your title place nearby, interest was 6.99%, per month! Arkansas used to have a cap on such loans to protect the gullible and stupid. You know, you just can’t fix stupid!! What are we gonna do!!!!!??????

  • Chuck Stephens

    The sad fact is that industry’s short sighted shaving of profit margins and rush to market means we have a generation of engineers afraid to fail. The days of bodged together quick and dirty proof of concept design is long gone.
    Even the First robotics kids I work with have a hard time improvising and ‘winging it’. I stress that a noisy, ugly, barely working prototype gives you a foundation to build on for v2.0, and if it doesn’t work you haven’t wasted time on cosmetics and finishing details. A hands-on failure will teach you more than all the theory in the world.

    BTW your stepped tone generator, aka Atari Punk Console, was the circuit that finally got me into hobby electronics in my late 30s. That lead me to Maker Faire, First robotics, Bar Camp, Instructables, a whole new career path and an awesome community of makers and hackers. Thank you.

    • nsayer

      “The days of bodged together quick and dirty proof of concept design is long gone.”

      I beg to differ.

      I was a teenager building Heathkits in the 80s. I saw the coming advent of surface mount technology as the death knell for the electronics hobbyist. I pivoted into software as a career, and that has served me well. I’ve always been a ham and have retained what electrical and electronics knowledge I’ve had, but didn’t think there was much use for those skills.

      Two years ago, I leased an electric car. At the time, charging stations (also known as EVSEs) were quite expensive, and I wanted to know why, so I googled around to discover The Secret. That led me to OpenEVSE and I decided, though I already had one, to try and build my own. That in turn led me to Arduino, and Eagle, and OSH Park and eventually to building my own reflow oven and mastering surface mount reflow soldering.

      I do breadboard stuff from time to time, but the quick-and-dirty proofs of concept that I make nowadays take 10 days for PCB fab turnaround and look like they came from a factory in Shenzen.