What makes wearable electronics different from ordinary electronics? Do they use special circuit boards, or components? Maybe special solder? Can you use any small circuitry for wearable hacking?
Interesting question! The short answer…NOTHING!
The long answer:
The idea of embedding electronics into clothing or merely attaching them to our bodies has been around for ages…..well ages for some of us.
The main difference with wearable electronics is in the fact that clothing gets washed, and if the electronics are attached to the clothing, then they need to be able to survive the cleaning process. On most electronics that are meant to be worn, there is a large amount of engineering that goes into preventing water from coming in direct contact with the circuit. Water in turn will cause corrosion of the metal components and the minerals found in the water can cause electrical shorts. This does not mean that an electronic device cannot come into contact with water and survive! It just so happens last week I saved my friends DROID Incredible that ended up in a lake by soaking it in water! After removing the battery and support electronics, I soaked the main PCB in distilled water for ~10min. The soaking, in addition to some scrubbing with an old paintbrush, cleaned up any corrosion. Finally after rinsing with some isopropyl and a good drying, it fired right up!
With regards to the electronics themselves:
In our world of Arduinos and hackerspace tech, there are really two main contributors in wearable electronics, Leah’s LilyPad and Limor’s FLORA. These two devices are really just standard PCBs (with standard components and solder) that have been designed to accommodate stainless steel thread and be sewn into clothing. This idea in addition to small “daughter” PCBs can be linked together to produce some really neat results.
Leah has also discovered a technique for producing a circuit using conductive cloth and an heat activated adhesive. This is a much more intensive process then just sewing on a LilyPad or FLORA, but the results are stunning.
So, the long story short, wearable electronics are really no different then the standard, just that they have to be able to withstand the environment. They are made of the same material, use the same solder and controlled by the same electronics. Honestly, you could use just about anything electronic, weight and danger permitting, as a wearable device.
I hope this answers your question and I look forward to seeing the next awesome TRON costume!
Next up is Vincere with a question about STEM…or rather “Whats STEM?”!
Don’t forget, everyone is invited to ask a question!