The purpose of the Signaling Cyclist Jacket is to keep road bikers safe on the streets when pedaling on poorly lit streets. As for me personally, I am a cyclist myself. Although I prefer to mountain bike, my goal is to ride my bike to work everyday in order to keep in shape and save money on gas. Hence, the idea of wearing a signaling jacket so cars on the road can be more aware of me when changing directions or lanes. In order to make a jacket similar to this, below I have listed the materials you will need (note: some of the materials are optional but will make the process faster and more aesthetically pleasing).
- LilyPad Arduino board
- LilyPad LED lights (12 red)
- LilyPad push buttons (2)
- Li-Po battery
- Mini USB cable
- Conductive thread
- Non-conductive thread - optional
- Sewing needle
- Sewing machine - optional
- Jacket (with thumb holes in sleeves)
- Silicone/Fabric glue (dries clear)
- Alligator clips (4-6)
Click on the video file below to watch an overview of the final product.
Step 1: Making a Plan
The first step in the creation process is to make a plan. For my plan, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible while still showing the intricacy of the jacket. Thus, I used a paper cutout that I folded in various areas to make what somewhat resembles the jacket I had in mind. It was at this point that I began the first-draft blueprints. Although, these blueprints were changed slightly later on in the project, it really help me and others envision this idea.
Step 2: Making a Prototype
Once the idea had been thoroughly developed, the next step in the process was to create a prototype. I found an old, long-sleeved shirt that I used to mimic the sleeve of the jacket (since the important part of the project was the actual sleeve, it helped to just cut off the sleeve at the elbow so users could easily slip it on for testing). Then I cut a thumb hole in the end of the sleeve to once again resemble the style of the jacket. From here, I put my hand and arm in the sleeve to figure out where the most comfortable place was to sew on the button and feedback light. Using a Sharpie, I marked the two locations and sewed on the elements with non-conductive thread.
Now, with the button and light in place, I used the LilyPad Arduino and a handful of alligator clips to complete the circuit. This really simplifies the process instead of spending 30-60 minutes on sewing the prototype together. Also, I just used a simple on-light, off-light coding sequence so I knew that if any problems came up it wasn't caused by the coding; and I could being troubleshooting my circuit.
User testing is highly recommended once the prototype is built. Therefore, receiving feedback about what works and what doesn't. Specifically, I found that the button I had sewed on the sleeve of my "jacket" was not in a comfortable or convenient place for people with smaller hands than me. I would never had found this out if it wasn't for user testing. As a tip, you don't need to have a complete project to make up a prototype. A prototype can use what's known as the Wizard of Oz Effect. Just like in the last picture shown for this section, I have the sleeve prototype all wired to the LilyPad but then the actual, black jacket has some lights resting on it to show the idea that when the button is pressed, the lights on the back of the shirt light up (even though they aren't wired up yet).
Step 3: Making the Blueprints
Using another long-sleeved t-shirt, it was time to map out the blueprints. First, I started with the main set of lights on the back. I wanted them to be arrow-like and easily visible on a person hunched over riding a bike, so I carefully positioned the center about six inches down from the collar of the t-shirt. Then I measured out from the center four inches (eight inches in diameter) to begin placing my lights. It took me a while to come up with a simple way to wire these lights while making them as aesthetically pleasing as possible.
From my original, paper prototype, I had switch which side the negative and positive elements of the circuit would be. This was the solution to making the conductive thread paths as simple as possible without having any overlapping sections. The outside of the blinking arrows was attached to the ground or negative side of the circuit; and the inside was connected to separate pins for individual programming. The most challenging part was figuring out how to wire the sleeve buttons and lights without any unnecessary paths running down the length of the arm.
Mapping out on old t-shirt where everything would go...
Step 4: Sewing and Adding Lights
The feedback given during the user testing trial run helped me refine my final project and build a 3D blueprint; so the next step was to get started on the sewing and attaching all the lights. Using the blueprints as a guide, I took a dark marker to outline each path I would need to sew onto the real jacket. It would have been near impossible to sew in a straight line without those markings to follow.
Then I got to work on the sewing. I would highly recommend using a sewing machine since there is a large amount of sewing involved with this project that it would take hours and hours making the stitches yourself. If you do use a sewing machine, place the conductive thread on the bottom spool and the non-conductive thread on the top. You'll want to flip the jacket inside-out so that the final product will have the conductive thread on the outside. If on the inside, the circuit could be shorted very easily when touching your bare skin. So keep it on the outside.
Not all the sewing could be done by a sewing machine, so in places like the sleeve ends (where the hands and wrists touch the fabric) and the last inch from the paths to the LilyPad or lights you will find yourself hand-stitching. Be aware that if you hand stitch, there is no insulating thread on the inside of the jacket. So to resolve this, put a healthy amount of silicone, or fabric glue, over the inside thread to create an insulating rubber lining. As another useful tip, be sure to check the circuit after you attach each light and button to make sure they are working, and to reduce the amount of troubleshooting if anything goes wrong.
Step 5: Coding the Lights
Now that the lights are all in place and wired up, it's time to program the Arduino with a little code. For my pattern, I used a blinking pattern and told it to remain off until the button was pushed. And when the button was pushed, I told it to remain on (blinking) until the button was release. Thus, allowing the biker to choose how long he/she wants the blinker on for instead of having he/she press it once to have the light blink a certain number of times. My only recommendation is that you set the pin-light delay to '500' as this the perfect speed for a rear blinker to communicate with other road vehicles.
You are welcome to view, copy, and paste the code that I have provided in the file below. It could save you quite a bit of time.
Step 6: The Final Product
Above are some pictures of the final product. If you would like to see it in action, click the video file below. As you can see, the button and feedback light are placed at the end of the sleeves at the hands. When the button is pushed and held, the cyclist will see the feedback light on the sleeve blink letting him/her know that the coordinating, back blinker is on as well. Thus, creating good communication from device to biker and biker to vehicles.