Rocket House Uses Intel Edison to Power Wearable Dresses Containing 900 LEDs

03 November 2015

Zoë KlintbergZoë KlintbergZoë Klintberg is the co-owner and artistic director at Rocket House Productions Inc. based in Calgary, Canada. Klintberg and Rocket House recently made an appearance at World Maker Faire, showing off wearable tech fashion powered by the Intel Edison board. Here, she tells us more about the technology, the inspiration behind it and some upcoming projects she is working on—including some other functional wearable accessories and personal small-tech solutions for the company.

Electronic360: I understand you and Steve have some tech experience, but you come mainly from a theater background. How exactly did you end up at Maker Faire working with Intel creating wearable tech?

Zoë Klintberg: Calgary is actually a hotspot for wearable technology right now and since we work in the creative and event community, we know and work with a lot of people in this field. I got the opportunity to create a wearable tech piece to be showcased in a local fashion show and since we come from a theater background, we decided to take the approach of a storyteller and create homage to the ancient Greek mythological tradition. Because this piece became a large production, like a mini theater piece, I brought onboard a costume designer, Erin Bauer; a leather designer, Andy Guba; and a technical director, Kevin Loney. Early on, we made the decision to allow the piece to adapt to its environment and have the ability to showcase many different animations. After looking at a number of potential options, we decided to use the Intel Edison as the main board.

While we were showcasing the piece at a fashion show at San Mateo Maker Faire, our Teensy board accidentally got destroyed. Luckily AnoukWippretch, an amazing Dutch designer, was in the same show and offered up one of her special pink Sparkfun Teensy boards to help us out! When we started talking about our respective pieces, I mentioned that we were using the Intel Edison, but that I still had some questions about some of its functionality. Since she had worked with Intel quite a bit in the past, she introduced me to some of the fine folks at the Intel booth, who were impressed with the tech, but also the production value. And the rest is history!

Electronic360: Can you tell me a little bit about the technology behind the fashion powered by the Intel Edison board?

Zoë Klintberg: The Éōs dress contains almost 900 individually addressable LEDs with a refresh rate of 240 frames/second. These have been mapped Rocket House’s mythology-inspired dresses in action.Rocket House’s mythology-inspired dresses in action.out on the dress to essentially create a low-res screen to show off any animation or image. At this time, we have a library of various weather patterns and a sunrise/sunset palette. The dress and cloak are both powered by an Intel Edison board and a Teensy board, allowing Wifi, Bluetooth and the ability to create dynamic animations that never repeat. These are housed in the belt for easy access, but also allows light to pass through the crystal accent for our ambient light sensor. We use two large lithium polymer batteries to run the dress when it’s mobile with a maximum running time of 3 hours. The dress also features a CNC milled copper "sun" necklace with two amber LEDs, connected at the shoulders.

The Nyx cloak has no onboard data or power source, allowing it to drape naturally. Instead, it connects to the dress through a magnetic shoulder piece with individual power and data magnet connectors. In the shoulders, we have 16 LEDs that lead to 20 accurate constellations throughout the cloak, made up of 208 fiber optic stars. And to reflect the dress front, we have a "moon" necklace with two blue-white LEDs, connected at the nape of the neck in the back.

Electronic360: Where did the inspiration for your Intel wearable designs come from?

Zoë Klintberg: I have always adored mythology and hold a special place in my heart for Greek Mythology. I studied Ancient Greek, as well as Mythology briefly in university, and was enchanted by the descriptions of the gods and goddesses—their personalities, but also their appearance. One description that caught me was “the cloak of night,” which sounds so beautiful and mystical, but also totally create-able. It was always odd to me that no one had fashioned a constellation cloak to reflect this idea of wrapping yourself in a twinkling sky. The idea of clothing divine beings in the natural world led me to start considering the dual nature of night and day and how that reflects the highly faceted nature of humanity and, especially, femininity. I decided to design two pieces that connected and complemented each other, but represented two sides of the same personality—one that was dark, elegant and mysterious, and another one that was light, fun and bold. I decided to use Éōs, the goddess of the dawn, as the inspiration for the dress, and Nyx, the goddess of the night, for the cloak. As a personal bonus, I added some phrases in Greek from The Odyssey about the two goddesses to some of the leather accents since the concept of the project was heavily influenced by Homer’s writings. I’m a giant nerd at heart and a lot of my inspiration comes from very obscure references.

Electronic360: How long did it take to bring the whole project together in preparation for Maker Faire?

Zoë Klintberg: It was about a year of total work. I spent a couple of months just finalizing the concept and the initial designs before deciding whom to bring into the project. We spent a lot of time collectively working out the timelines and goals that needed to be hit in order for each phase of development to lead into the next. Working as a team is wonderful, because each person can focus on what they are passionate about and what they do best, but it also takes a lot of communication and coordination. The thing that took the most amount of time was research and development for the tech, since the Edison is still quite new, and there weren’t many resources for troubleshooting some of the more complex aspects.

Electronic360: Do you plan on working more with wearable tech in the future? Any otherideas for the industry?

Zoë Klintberg: Yes! We’re working on developing some functional wearable tech costumes and accessories for Beakerhead, a big annual Arts and Science celebration. We’re also currently working with a local jewelry designer, to create a range of tech-based pendants, inspired by the sun and moon necklaces that we created for Éōs and Nyx. Unfortunately, I can’t say too much about either project. But it’s very exciting to work with such talented teams! I’d personally love to eventually move forward with a few ideas I have for some suits and accessories for musicians, inspired by a very talented friend that I work with, but at this point, everything is still in pre-production phase. I also received a number of offers at World Maker Faire in New York to become involved in some other wearable tech projects, especially projects that get women more involved in the tech industry, so we’ll have to see where those lead!

Electronic360: What other kind of technology and electronics do you create?

We’re working on the development of an event-focused app that will make our internal operations much easier, but we hope it will eventually provide a solution for other event clients as well. In general, we’re always developing small tech solutions for event and theater productions that pop up in every project—the need for tech solutions is everywhere.

Electronic360: What's an awesome and innovative tech project you've thought up that you'd like to see come to fruition?

Zoë Klintberg: I would love to incorporate augmented reality into live theater! For years now, we’ve discussed the idea of writing and producing a play with multiple storylines that can be understood or interpreted in multiple ways through audience exploration and the use of a simple app. I love cross-pollinating mediums and this would allow more audience interaction and engagement, and allow theater to offer clues and Easter eggs, like a game, but also contain pre-recorded videos or animations, like a movie.

Electronic360: Tell me a little bit about Rocket House and the company's mission.

Zoë Klintberg: Rocket House is a creative services company that specializes in events, theater and immersive marketing. Our motto is “curate, create and collaborate” and our mission is to be the hub of the many aspects of production and development, bringing together the creators, problem-solvers, engineers and organizers. We strive to be adventurous and cutting-edge, but also to build the firm foundations needed to facilitate and sustain adventurous storytelling.

Electronic360: How big is the market for your creative services?

Zoë Klintberg: The creative market is quite extensive, but creative services are often a small part of larger projects. I often have conversations with people who have an idea that they would like to see come to fruition, but don’t realize how big or expensive it will actually be until they start talking it out. So, opportunities are everywhere, but a lot of them end up on the back burner until the details are worked out. At the end of the day, if the economy is good people love spending the extra money needed to get creative projects off the ground. If the economy is bad, creativity is often the first thing on the chopping block. Despite being woven into the fabric of every project, creativity can feel like a luxury. I know this is a vague answer, but the truth is that the actual market for creativity fluctuates, but the desire for it is a constant.

Electronic360: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your company?

Zoë Klintberg: We are still a very young company, so development is an ongoing challenge. But I’d say the most challenging thing for our projects is scope-creep. A lot of the time, ideas get bigger and (sometimes) better while the budget remains the same, or even shrinks. A lot of people see creativity as a magical process that just happens effortlessly and so it seems harmless to continually add more and more aspects. It’s easy to underestimate the long hours of admin and logistics and even physical labor that go into every project. It’s always a challenge to keep projects on schedule and on budget.

Electronic360: What's next for Rocket House (future projects, plans and growth)?

Zoë Klintberg: Our next step is officially expanding the company to bring our key collaborators onboard full-time, rather than just engaging them on a contract basis. We’re going to be moving into a larger office space in the beginning of 2016 that will have warehouse and workshop space so that we can create more products in-house. We’re also creating templates and packages of our smaller productions and products so that they can be repeated in other cities. We’re formalizing a lot of the plans that have been naturally developing over the last few years.

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