Tag Archives: wearables

Soft electronics

German designer Katja Riley found a way to translate music into a tactile experience. Her project “Touched by Music” is an example of tomorrow’s wearable technology that does not bring the feeling of wearing tech. According to her vision, next generation of electronics will become soft, visibly disappear, and will relate to different human senses.

– Usually, hearing sense overpowers our touch sense. ”Touched by Music” project gives people a new experience of music, which is a tactile way of hearing – said Katja Riley, the author of the research that is much more than an ambitious bachelor project. ”Touched by Music” is a fascinating story about human senses, technology, wearable devices, music, dance, design, fashion and e-textiles all at once.

New textile-based products will move the technology to the fiber level.

”Touched by Music” is a top made of electronic textiles that makes music feelable on the human body. There are twelve small vibrating motors integrated with the garment. An MP3 file is sent via Bluetooth to a microcontroller integrated with the device. When the controller receives and analyzes the data, it activates motors adequately.

Touched by Music e-textiles

There are low frequencies vibrating motors on left and right sides of the stomach. Medium frequencies motors (the drum) are placed on the upper chest. On the back on the neck, there are high-frequency motors.

In contrast to today’s most products that bury technology inside a hard shell which consist of many materials, the next-generation products and their interface may be made of the same soft material.

The microcontroller and vibration motors are connected to each other and powered trough a conductive thread integrated into the fabric. A removable battery is located just next to the microcontroller on the lower back.

Touched by Music architecture

Katja Riley emphasizes that motors do not simply vibrate in a rhythm of a music. Vibrations rates are dynamic, which means they portray a mood of each song. If the wearer is happy or sad and chooses a matching song, an adequate emotion will be felt on his or her body.

Quotations used in this article have been edited for space and clarity. To listen to the original interview with Katja Riley watch the video embedded below. To learn more about conductive threads, pay particular attention to the part between 6th and 7th minute of the video.


Katja’s wearable device enables anyone who can’t hear or has limited hearing to experience music, but the designer does not address her project only to deaf or hearing impaired people (though, she is very happy that they can benefit from her project).

– Music is not just something we enjoy. It makes us feel better. It can heal. With this device, you can either choose just to feel the music, or you can listen to it and feel at the same time – Katja explains.

Touched by Music What is music

– All of us, those who can hear and those who can not, feel the music on our bodies, as music is nothing else than sound waves that hit us. The tactile experience is what makes us to really like a song. That’s why we turn on music very loud when we really want to feel it. When we are at the concert our experience is different from listening to music at home. The emotional side of music, which is the feeling of it, can be portrayed anywhere with my wearable – the designer continues.

Katja is the most excited about the materials she discovered during her research. She is fascinated by electronic textiles and how they could make electronics soft: – With e-textiles, we can give a new feel to electronic products and make them more human.

Touched by Music wearable credits TrendNomad
Photography by TrendNomad.com

The first “Touched by Music” prototype is at the testing stage. It is not ready for a consumer market, and it is just a suggestion of how the final product may look like. The prototype was sewn, but Katja wishes to manufacture its final version on a seamless knitting machine.

– The technology chosen to produce this product is not something I can make a model just like that. There are very specific and huge industrial knitting machines necessary. It’s expensive at the beginning, as there is a lot of know-how and specialists needed to set-up such a machine, but when you go into production, then it is not expensive anymore. It is quite sustainable and much quicker method than cutting and sewing fabrics. Seamless knitting is kind of 3D printing for clothes. It comes out of a machine in one piece, cutting or sewing are unnecessary – Katja adds.

In the next 5-10 years we will see e-textile-based products that enable completely new ways of how we deal with electronics.

On the other hand, reusing and recycling e-textiles, including separating conductive threads from regular textiles, are near-future-problems the industry will encounter and should think of solving them in advance. Katja Riley suggests that the solution may be found by working with e-textiles manufacturers from the very beginning. Moreover, smart textile products must have specific new labelling standard to ensure correct disposal.

The designer believes that people will treat e-clothing differently than a regular garment which sometimes has a lifetime of a week. In her opinion, with additional functions and increased value people will use electronic clothing much longer than they do today with cheap fast fashion.

Touched by Music Katja Riley at DMY Berlin 2016 credits TrendNomad
Photography by TrendNomad.com

I met and interviewed Katja Riley at the exhibition organised by University of Applied Sciences in Berlin at DMY 2016 design festival, which ran June 2-5 in the capital of Germany. If you would like to ask some questions regarding ”Touched by music” project, please contact the designer directly at katja.riley@mac.com.

Photos 1, 2, 3 and 4 depict slides included in the presentation shown by Katja Riley at DMY Berlin 2016.


Do you like this article or the video interview? Then buy me a coffee! Wherever you are, you can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my website. Just click the rectangular button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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Golden years (of unobtrusive technology)

The Nordic society, as many other ones, is getting old. Elderly people to keep living independently and safe in their homes will rely – as well as their families – on monitoring technology. Icelandic company e21 believes that using a home monitoring system does not have to mean spying, and is going to offer a smart alternative to online cameras and wearable devices.

At present, 25 percent of the entire Nordic adult population is represented by elderly people. In 2030, this number will rise to more than 40 percent, and 45 percent in 2050. However, employment in healthcare, including nursing, is not growing. It all means that Nordic countries must start preparing themselves for a dramatic increase of elderly people in need of new solutions that will increase their quality of life.

Authors of ideas dedicated for elderly and disabled people took part in Nordic Independent Living Challenge, a competition that was organised by five Nordic capital cities and Nordic Innovation institution.

E21, an Icelandic company that develops a home monitoring system combining discreet sensors and software with alarm response and service design, was among 25 semi-finalists of the competition. The company wasn’t selected for the final of the competition, but has already started cooperation with such giants as Falck, Philips and Vodafone, and has a great chance to succeed on the market in the near future.

Home safe home (without spying)

Without a need of installing cameras or motion detectors that some people may consider as spying devices, the invisible system called Butler discreetly detects whether a resident of an apartment makes everyday activities, such as using a kettle or a coffee machine, turning on TV set or a radio, using a toilet or a washbasin, on the basis of daily cycles of electricity and water consumption.

If any abnormalities occur, such as extraordinary long water flow or a lack of consumption of electricity or water for few hours, the system sends a notification to relatives or a caretaker, suggesting them to call or visit the elder person to check whether he or she is safe and sound.

E21 Butler can help older people live in their homes and make them feel more safe. It also makes their relatives feel relaxed knowing that they will be notified if help is needed.

In mid-March, I visited e21’s office in Reykjavik and interviewed Halldor Axelsson, the Chief Technology Officer of e21 Ltd. Below you can find the transcription of our talk. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.


TrendNomad.comAt many consumer electronics fairs I find more and more home monitoring systems that include internet cameras, motion sensors and wearables. Your approach is different.
Halldor Axelsson: Some people do not feel comfortable when they see cameras and different kind of sensors around them. Wearables seems to be more acceptable, but they work only when a user put a device on his or her body. I heard about a man who took off his smart bracelet before taking a shower. Few minutes later he had a heart attack. The deactivated device couldn’t notice this occurrence and didn’t call for help. People need a system that works in the background.

Are you against using wearables by elderly people?
H.A.: No, I’m not, but in my opinion wearables, panic buttons, internet cameras, medicine dispensers, GPS gadgets etc., should be extra options expanding the possibilities of a basic system that you can always rely on.

A so-called panic buttons that are offered by private companies, in theory, make it very easy to call for help. But in reality, many elderly people do not dare to push such buttons, as they don’t know who will come with help, or how much the service will cost.

What is essential in your idea?
H.A.: When someone spends a lot of time at home, he or she quite regularly uses electrical devices and turn on and off the water. It is not difficult to build a mathematical model of daily activity of that person. It is enough to monitor water flow in pipes and electricity consumption to check whether the elder person that lives alone is safe and sound. When something bad happens – for example, a stroke or a faint – home appliances and water taps are not used or stay turned on for a much longer time than usual. In that case, the system sends an alert to relatives and caretakers suggesting to contact or visit the person they care about.

What if there is another explanation of a longer than usual usage of an oven? Let’s say, cooking for Christmas?
H.A.: Analysis conducted by our cloud server takes into account whether Christmas or someone’s birthday is coming. The system will not send an alert if it finds another explanation of an unusual pattern.

How long does the system learn someone’s habits?
H.A.: It starts recognising deviations in daily patterns after less than one week of learning someone’s daily routine. Naturally, the longer it works and the more data it process, the more advanced and detailed the pattern is.

e21 Butler credits TrendNomad
The Butler’s hub is connected wirelessly to the cloud server by Vodafone’s cellular network. Clients will receive alerts even when a power blackout occurs. Photography by TrendNomad.com

How many sensors do I have to install at home?
H.A.: One sensor should be put in the main electrical box. The second is designed to be attached to a water pipe. The first one detects energy consumption and studies electrical patterns. Every kind of device you plug into a socket has its own electrical pattern. The system recognises whether a current electricity consumption is made, for example, by a washing machine, a dishwasher, a kettle or a TV set.

The second sensor detects water flow. There is no need to screw or cut the pipe. Installation is as simple as attaching a magnet. It listens to the sound of water flowing inside a pipe. Noise level varies depending on how much water you use at the moment. The sensor works wirelessly on a battery for two years.

On the basis of data generated by both sensors, the system builds a model of a daily activity of a person that lives alone.

We can find more and more home appliances such as kettles, coffee machines and fridges connected to the internet. Maybe they can also deliver information about a home activity to relatives of elderly people?
H.A.: Off course every device connected to the internet could be used for that purpose, but instead of putting sensors into every device, it is far more practical to monitor electrical and water systems of the house. Besides, our solution can also notice some health issues. If a given person goes to the toilet once, twice or three times every night, the system may suggest visiting a doctor.

A good monitoring solution is not about getting data about everything. It should be as simple as possible and operate invisibly on a background.

What is the plan for the near and more distant future of e21 Butler?
H.A.: We’ve started testing the system at private homes. In about three to six months we will know how does it work. In April, our team will expand to five full-time employees. The plan is to commercialise the system within a year. We haven’t decided yet whether it will be offered as a one-time purchase or with a subscription plan. Certainly, we want to make it an inexpensive, affordable solution.

Probably the product will be launched on the market branded as Heartbeat of the Home. At the beginning, we will focus on Scandinavian countries, and then we will go further. China is a very interesting market, as there is a strong tradition that young generation takes care of elderly people. We thought that our target group will be only private homes, but maybe the system will be also supported by a public sector.


If you have any other questions to Halldor Axelsson, you can send him an email at hax@e21butler.com.

The main photo is a shot from „The e-butler” video.


Do you like this interview? Then buy me a coffee! You can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my blog. Just click the button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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