Using buttons for wearable components

Posted January 13, 2006

Continuing my previous entry on ISWC 2005 papers, the other interesting poster I saw in the proceedings was this paper (sorry, I can't find a free full-text link anywhere) from Hannaikainen, Mikkonen, and Vanhala.

The problem they address is that of true wearable computing, i.e. integrating computers into clothing. You can do a lot of interesting stuff with conductive thread, but unfortunately you often run into the fundamental problem that silicon chips are hard and inflexible whereas clothing is soft and malleable (and washable!). Often people have used snaps to attach hard components to a fabric temporarily, which has the advantage of allowing you to move your expensive computing components from shirt to shirt each day. For smaller, simpler devices this isn't very friendly, however.

The obvious (in retrospect, of course) solution they came up with is to stuff the chips into the various buttons and other hard pieces of plastic and metal that clothes already have. This also provides an easy mechanism to tie the chips into the data bus of the clothes by using conductive thread to attach the button itself. With appropriate packaging, I don't see any reason why such sealed buttons wouldn't be able to survive a wash cycle, too (assuming you powered your shirt down first, heh heh).