Wearables are Low-Key on the Rise, So Let’s Just Make Our Own

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been creeping into our lives and homes for a while now, but lately internet connected slow cookers and doorbells are sharing bandwidth with much smaller, wearable devices.

One Business Insider report predicts that by 2020 there will be 34 billion devices connected to the internet, and 70% will be IoT products. That’s 24 billion smart egg cartons, backpackssneakersjackets, and bracelets reporting useful (and not so useful) data back to us (and the cloud) about our lives. Manufacturers are making great strides on the aesthetics of wearable IoT, but there are still a lot of real privacy questions to answer.

The rise of IoT raises a lot of good questions about what we do with electronics that have outlived their usefulness? Do we just toss obsolete devices aside?

Or can they be repurposed? Can they be… MacGyver’ed?

No, I’m not proposing to repurpose coffins as jet skis for unexpected aquatic escapes (that’s for next year’s fellows). But I’d love to find a few ways to turn vintage mobile devices into something more interesting than a wind chime or a fire starter.

A quick web search does turn up a few creative ways to re-use a smartphone, but none involve taking the phone all the way apart. The maker community is thriving and full of DIY surveillance projects, most instructions start with new, boxed components from maker marketplaces.

This means we have a fun opportunity.

Most people are simply too afraid to open electronics. There is, however, a community of people who are at least curious. Here at Open Lab we love finding novel ways to share compelling narratives through art and technology. I hope to demystify opening your old electronics and reconstructing them into an IoT-“thing”. And with these newly constructed “things”, comes a space for the everyday person to find their voice and use it to share a story.

For the next year I’ll be experimenting with deconstructing old electronics, gadgets, children’s toys and mobile devices, fashioning them into discreet, wearable surveillance equipment. Along the way, I’ll build nearly anything I can out of salvaged circuit boards, cameras, sensors and effectors. I am particularly interested in how first-person storytelling through handmade surveillance equipment encourages a shift from passive media consumption to active media creation.

Conversations about citizen journalism tend to turn quickly to user-generated content and then structured crowdsourcing platforms, and whether an unpaid army of coordinated citizens can take the place of shuttered newsrooms. But we do need much more diverse voices in the stories we see about our world. I’m not interested in replacing professional reporters with volunteers who can do the work for free, but I am interested in giving many more people an opportunity to tell their story and the stories they see throughout their community.

Creating a whole new line of home-brewed wearable surveillance equipment does raise some important questions. Am I dabbling in privacy? Am I dabbling in fashion design? Of course, and unfortunately, the answer to both is yes. However, I’ve determined a north star, of sorts, for myself during this fellowship - accessibility.

I aim to develop a kit that encourages first person story-telling by way of an accessible, open source tool.

So not only do I want you to dismantle your outdated electronics and morph them into a wearable surveillance scarf, I want you to use it to create immersive media content in which others can empathetically align.

Open Lab for Journalism, Technology, and the Arts is a workshop in BuzzFeed’s San Francisco bureau. We offer fellowships to artists and programmers and storytellers to spend a year making new work in a collaborative environment. Read more about the lab or sign up for our newsletter.

Time-Lapse Snapback And First Person Journalism

Remember our obsession with hidden camera shows?

We love embedded cameras when their footage makes us laugh or enables us to check in on our infants and pets. Placing consumer hidden cameras in our homes give us a sense of security and (seemingly) investigative superpowers.

These cameras help us answer the age old question in life - What the hell happened to my other sock?

In public, however, concealed cameras raise deeper question around privacy, ethics and legal implications. I value first person narrative and I’m experimenting in storytelling through DIY wearable, embedded cameras. When BuzzFeed reporter Blake Montgomery told me he’d be covering protests in Washington, D.C. this weekend, I decided to build him a low cost, wearable camera.

The time-lapse snapback is an exercise in access, discretion and first person narrative through a headpiece. The Washington Times reports a record number of protests planned during the Presidential Inauguration and other reports suggest the Women’s March on Washington could pull more numbers than the Inauguration as a whole.

While there will be an abundance of media coverage during both of these public events and perhaps a small fraction will be streamed live to social media; for just under $50 I have a first person point of view.

Less than $50 to see Blake Montgomery’s consecutive days at the Presidential Inauguration and Women’s March on Washington in sequential frames? Yes, please!

My design goal was to create a lightweight, low cost tool that could be deemed handsfree. I decided to use a Pi Zero for processing as it is one of the smallest and most powerful in its category. Additionally, at $5, the Pi Zero is extremely affordable. I also knew I wanted a switch so the user could toggle the system on and off.

It all fit easily inside the hat. Though not shown here, I lined the final version with fleece, fabric to keep it warm for the cold D.C. weather as well as to protect the hardware from sweat and stray hairs.

I purchased a nylon flat washer for less than a dollar at my local hardware store which acted as grommet. The eyelet enabled me to hand sew a sturdy pinhole for the camera to peek through. The finish makes the camera quite undetectable.

In the most recent video report that Blake filed, he’d put away the hat in favor of a gas mask, so it remains to be seen how much of a fly on the wall we’ll get to be. Look out for a full tutorial and user guide next week.

The Open Lab for Journalism, Technology, and the Arts is a workshop in BuzzFeed’s San Francisco bureau. We offer fellowships to artists and programmers and storytellers to spend a year making new work in a collaborative environment. Read more about the lab, read more from Jamica.