WiFi Detecting Armor #WearableWednesday


Making the invisible visible is definitely a fun topic, and the students of Team Wearables 2020 from the University of California Berkeley decided to make WiFi visible. Their fashion is called Hertzian Armor, and you can check out their build on Hackster.io. This layered shoulder pad accessory contain LEDs, and their colors and tiers represent different levels of WiFi activity. Are you thinking tech version of Game of Thrones? That’s certainly going through my mind! Check out the students’ video.

The project has interesting origins, and the hint is in its name–Hertzian.

Hertzian space, as described by Dunne and Raby, is a holistic view of the electronic object and its cultural interactions, and is the interface between electromagnetic waves and human experiences.

So, the idea of creating a visual representation of WiFi fits in very nicely with this concept. It’s interesting that the piece became a shoulder style, and the students definitely had specific locations for use in mind.

We decided on creating shoulder armor because we wanted a wearable that would be bold enough to display at Burning Man or an event like Silicon Valley Fashion Week, but also simple enough to be worn around Berkeley.

Their prototype processed through different materials including paper, cardboard and finally neoprene. They were considering leather (Thrones fans, right?), but the cost made it more of a future possibility.


Embedded in the wearable are Adafruit NeoPixel strips, the Adafruit CC3000 WiFi Breakout, a Lilypad Arduino and LiPower, along with a LiPo battery. It’s a pretty simplistic rig, but the cool factor is definitely in the programming. Here’s what it looks like.

The LED output color is defined by type of WiFi in the area:

  • red value = ( # of restricted networks / total networks ) x 255
  • green value = ( # of open networks / total networks ) x 255
  • blue value = ( # of Hotspots / total networks ) x 255

The number of lit LEDs is determined by the average Wi-Fi signal strength (RSSI) in the area:

  • all 3 strips lit: RSSI > 60
  • 2 strips: 50 <= RSSI <= 60
  • 1 strip: RSSI < 50


I really love the look of this piece and I think it lends itself to our future of environmental sniffing clothing. From detecting space junk while on a space walk to sensing radiation while on a neighborhood promenade, there’s a need to examine what our bodies may come in contact with. Making those things visible to others is part of awareness and community. Congrats to Team Wearables 2020 for your innovative wearable and I look forward to seeing your next project. This is a great use of our CC3000 WiFi Breakout and I can’t wait to see what other makers will do with it. Looks like “Can you hear me now?” is over.


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