Textile conductive sensor
2022

Stainless steel conductive thread, assorted wool, cotton, and polyester resistive yarns, Arduino Uno, Bare Conductive Touch Board





Concept:

Building off of an idea I developed for my midterm project, I wanted to create a soft tactile interaction that causes visible change in another object. The concept for this piece is related to a broader creative question about entanglement and connection that I have been asking across my current work. Specifically, this piece is meant to reveal unseen entanglements between seemingly noncontiguous material. 

I created this panel using a series of soft brush sensors, prototyping them to function as a MIDI board controlling projection of textural skins on sculpture and other materials using MadMapper. 


Prototype 1 



Goal for this stage:

Connect Arduino to Madmapper using the Firmata library and find a way to make digital pin input edit cues, scenes, and settings.

Materials: 

- Arduino Uno 
- Computer with Madmapper installed
- Jumper wires 
- Resistor 
- Button 
- Projector 







Reflection:

It was somewhat challenging to figure out how to connect the digital input from the switch to Madmapper. Most people using Arduino Uno with Firmata were using it to take Madmapper inputs and use them via Arduino to generate some output (like a servo motor). 

For some reason the digital input still has a huge true-false range. I found that it was helpful to reduce that range to the smallest distance Madmapper would allow for more reliable results. 

Process: I built a really simple button circuit to test this and loaded a variety of videos and images to que in Madmapper.












Prototype 2 


Goal for this stage:

Replace the test button with a brush sensor and use that to test changing scenes in Madmapper, then build a series of brush sensors on a panel to be able to read multiple inputs to trigger different effects. 

Materials: 

- Arduino Uno 
- Adafruit stainless steel conductive thread 
- Resistive wool and cotton embroidery yarn
- Thickly woven material for rug-tufting 
- Rug tufting pen
- Aligator clips 
- Wooden frame



Source: https://www.computationalcraft.io/week-5-textile-techniques-materials-deep-dive/ Liza Stark 2022






Brush sensor



Rug-tufting in process

I designed a circuit that would keep ground on one side of the panel and have the traces for  power/pins on the other side. I was able to use a thin strip of material with conductive thread inlaid to keep these organized in a little highway off the panel and towards the arduino/computer because the arduino had to be close to the computer to constantly feed in the Madmapper input rather than fixed to the panel itself. 





Prototype 3





Goal for this stage:

I used the panel itself along with a clay/microgreen plant sculpture painted with conductive ink to create an projection-mediated interaction using the Bare Conductive touch board. While the switches were working with the arduino setup above, the touch board provided a better user experience because of the smoother on/off states and because it made the sensors much more sensitive. Although less electronically sophisticated, the general input of touch rather than stroking to close the loop and turn the circuit on was easier for people to successfully trigger and understand, which makes the touch board a powerful sensor in interactive art. With the Arduino set up, the stroke sensors can be confusing to turn on and off without very specific instruction and were somewhat functionally unpredictable. 

Materials:

- Bare conductive touch board
- Adafruit stainless steel conductive thread
- Resistive wool and cotton embroidery yarn
- Thickly woven material for rug-tufting
- Rug tufting pen
- Copper tape
- Wooden frame






Testing in progress


Next steps: cyborg plant garment room-body


My initial brainstorming ideas for my final was to build off of my midterm while also incorporating living/dried grass alongside naturally-dyed wool to create a grass brush sensor textile, and after finishing this last stage of the project, I was thinking to explore using this panel of turf to prototype a large-scale walking interaction combining sound and audio. I’m imagining the entire floor of a room/rug/moss being interactive and potentially also alive pending how well I can keep humidity under control. This builds on research I’ve been doing surrounding soil and the rich liveliness of microbial diversity.



However, I’m now actually most excited for my immediate next steps going forward to focus on a wearable cyborg garment. I’ve been testing out growing plants on mesh and fabric, and I think to form that mesh into a shirt with conductive traces stitched in will make the conductive-material to MIDI projection/audio technique I worked on for this project so far come to life. One thing I felt stuck on was how to bring the dimensionality and flexibility offered by the material of e-textiles and conductive fabric to life. Right now, the panel I made, the conductive living rug idea and the plants I’ve been growing on mesh are all are still on flat surfaces, so I’m really excited about this garmet project as a way to link the things I’ve been experimenting with.


Plant mesh experiments


It will be both inhabited by plants that have grown into the mesh as well as lined with conductive traces, which will be insulated with resistive fabric on the inside so that the triggers be activated through interaction with other people, surfaces, animals, or things. The wearer (potentially a mannequin in a gallery setting) will recieve the sensation of the touch through whoever/whatever interacts with them physically, and the garment itself will also trigger light and sound reflections of that touch input around the room. 

My goal with this is to create the sense of interconnectivity and entanglement that has been core to the concept of this project and my creative focus in general. While the resulting experience would hopefully be a capivating vision of symbiosis, I would argue the implications of the resulting human/nature self/other blurring and connectivity with nature is not romantic but imperative. Stacy Alaimo writes about how through new materialist notions of corporeality, in which boundaries between human/nature and living/nonliving are blurred, “the environment” becomes only ever as far as one’s own skin. The environment then, as something never entirely seperate from us, is less easily considered an inert resource for human use and exploitation.

The potential entangling of nature/human, nature/tech, self/other and mind/matter through this conductive and alive MIDI shirt is going to be my focus going forward.

I also want to develop my zine further with the hopes that this piece will be displayed somewhere where I can also distribute it at the same time. The zine is meant to be perfect-bound and very small (roughly 4.5x5 minus bleed area) and will be developed further using additional resources.



The roots of the microbeets weave themselves in really tightly in the mesh, so if it’s started on a flat surface it can then be stitched into a shirt pattern without risk of falling off or coming loose.  



Zine