Sunday, October 26, 2008

Multiple DIY convergences - a revolution in progress

I have to admit that after poking around in several emerging fields of activity, I am stunned to discover how many environments are becoming available to the average tinkerer. The convergence of electronics and computer programming with textiles and garments is only one among several. Sewing as a hobby requires a modest amount of monetary investment, depending on how one goes about things. If one is given a machine or buys one used, works with inexpensive fabrics or by breaking down second hand clothes and re-making them differently, one can manage with costs of the order of about 100$, what you might call a "stripped down budget". If one buys fabrics, a sewing machine and a serger, one is operating within a budget from closer to 1000$ albeit over a certain amount of time, which I would call a "moderate budget".

So-called "soft electronics", that is, electronic components that can be incorporated into textiles and garments, cost about 100$ to get a minimum of materials, and several hundreds of dollars to be operational in this regard. So this places soft electronics within the range of a moderate DIY sewing budget.

Interestingly, the use of RFID technologies (smart chips that emit an ID signal that can be picked up by an appropriately designed antenna) is in this same price range. Today, one can buy a receiver for about 20-40$ and transmitters at costs of from 3$ to 20$. So for an investment of a hundred dollars, one can create a small environment within which one can sense sensors installed into objects or fixed into the physical environment.

Another interesting technological capability in an only slight higher monetary bracket is amateur robotics. With the emergence of Lego's Mindstorms robotics platform, one can build operational robots for an initial investment of about 400$, with very little additional investment required (unless one wants more than one robot).

Hence for what I am calling a modest budget (say 500$ to about 2000$), one can develop smart garments with RFID scanning capabilities, robots with RFID capabilites, and the beginnings of convergences between these two areas (i.e. garments that provide certain robot-like capabilities). This is amazing.

Technical knowhow for none of these areas requires more than some basic electronics knowledge (I took classes in electronics over 30 years ago, and this is enough to make sense of the technology) and some basic programming capability. There are also tons of online tutorials to help out with detailed step-by-step instructions to get the "newbie" through the hoops.

As a result, I think we are going to see a revolution in creative DIY projects in the next few years, as these different environments cross-fertilize each other and we see new ideas being dreamed up and tested very rapidly.

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