Your jacket can now talk to Facebook!

NTNU students in collaboration with SINTEF ICT Health Informatics Group prototype smartwear that can talk to Facebook. The smartwear can provide collaboration support for those who cannot use touch-screen smartphones, for instance rescuers, firefighters or people with reduced physical abilities. The jacket can wirelessly read your Facebook updates, vibrate the skin of your neck, in this way getting your attention to check the LCD screen attached to your sleeve.

The idea of providing physical user interfaces to social media came from our observations at SINTEF ICT of how limited mobile applications for social networking sites are. Although modern touch-based graphical user interfaces are extremely easy to use in normal conditions, they are practically unusable in many physically demanding conditions such as during rescue work. On the other hand, rapid communication and close coordination is often critical in such demanding conditions. In essence, existing mobile social applications (e.g. Facebook for iPhone or Android)provide a stripped-down version of the web application. In addition, they require the two hands and the full attention of the user. These limitations are not critical when using social media for leisure, for instance when updating your status on Facebook or sharing a photo on Flickr. However, when you use these tools for more serious work and under demanding physical conditions, using a small touch screen to communicate with others becomes impractical.

Group 10 of IT2901. Back row from left to right: Henrik Goldsack, Asbjørn Lucassen, Anders B. Eie, Johan Jansen, Bjørnar Håkenstad Wold. Front row from left to right: Emanuele Di Santom, Jonas Svarvaa.

The idea of using Arduino (a hardware prototyping platform) to create a physical user interface to social media was immediately understood and later enhanced by Group 10 in subject IT2901 at ID, NTNU. Early on the group came up with mock ideas about what prototypes could be used to demonstrate the concept. The final prototype became a jacket that can talk to Facebook.

About the platform

The developed platform that supports the jacket prototype consists of the following parts:

Bluetooth communication: One major part of the work is related to making communication with Arduino devices user-friendly. A Bluetooth library is developed to abstract the wire communication between Android OS and Arduino devices using Bluetooth protocol. Bluetooth is chosen because most phones have this embedded.
Arduino reader: An Android-based “Arduino reader” is implemented that allows a user to read a QR tag on an Arduino-enabled thing (e.g. a jacket) and let the user control the thing by pushing buttons. For instance, reading the QR code on the jacket allows the user to test the vibration, sound, and display functionality.
Android drivers: Example Android-based apps are developed to function as “software drivers”. One such “Jacket App” and a “Temperature App” are developed as a proof of concept.
Facebook service: An example consumer or client application is developed for Android that enables the communication between Arduino and Facebook.

Simone wearing the Arduino-enabled jacket that can be controlled using an Android phone.

About course IT2901

The course IT2901 at IDI, NTNU is a practical programming project course that exposes students to real world programming problems. The course has invited customers from the industry or other external institutions. Professor Monica Divitini is the coordinator of the course. We acknowledge her support in making this project possible. We also acknowledge the support by Simone Mora in supporting us with Arduinos.

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