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David Zax

A View from David Zax

The TV on Your Shirt

Adafruit Industries announces a new wearable technology platform.

  • January 27, 2012

Wearable electronics gets a new boost, with a new platform from Adafruit Industries, the brainchild of DIY-goddess Limor Fried (hacker handle: Ladyada). The new platform, dubbed the Flora, points to a future where people are wearing TV screens—or at least, something vaguely like them—on their T-shirts.

“For the last few years Ladyada has been thinking about everything she wanted in a wearable electronics platform for Adafruit’s community of makers, hackers, crafters, artists, designers and engineers,” writes Adafruit in its announcement of the new platform. “After months of planning, designing and working with partners around the world for the best materials and accessories, we can share what we’re up to.”

The Flora board is quite small, less than two inches in diameter (the thing has to be wearable, after all), and has built-in USB support (“this means you plug it in to program it, it just shows up,” says the site). CNET says the new platform is designed so that anyone can “craft a matrix of hundreds or someday, more than 1,000 small LED ‘pixels.’” Currently the Flora, which is being beta tested, can support no more than 500 linked pixels. Of course, 500 pixels isn’t an immense number—you might want to stick to your television to watch a movie—but it’s a start.

What’s next? Adafruit promises “dozens of projects that will be released” with the Flora this year, including related apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Adafruit and its heroine Fried (a Wired cover girl, no less) are a major gravitational center of a movement that goes by many names: open-source hardware, DIY, makers—general tinkerers. One of my favorite aspects of Fried’s enterprise is how she pitches a big tent, trying to get even the relatively non-geeky interested in how things work. Instructional how-to style videos are large part of her output; as she told Chris Anderson, “when people are exposed to this stuff and they actually get to see it, they get inspired.”

There’s also a sense with Fried, even though she once told me she was a “staunch capitalist,” that she’s more missionary than mercenary in her outlook. “For us it’s more like a cause,” she told Anderson. There’s the sense that something big could grow out of a movement of scattered hobbyists. As she said: “Yes, it is a hobby, but in the same way that ham radio was a hobby—people were just experimenting with packet radio. But that led to Wi-Fi and cell phones.”

Even if the Flora itself doesn’t become the next big thing, odds are that the movement it forms a part of will.

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