Archive | May 2013

NASA Space Apps Challenge

The Skirt Begins

The Skirt Begins

It has been a while since I posted.  There have been updates to Arduino, changes in the CapSense library and finally, some major issues with my old laptop.  I basically reached a standstill.  In the meantime, I heard about the NASA Space Apps Challenge and wanted to give it a try.  This two day event allows makers to come up with apps, programs or other tech objects to help NASA.  There was a specific challenge called “We Love Data” that got me excited, because it explored new ways to visualize data.  I found the information about the International Space Station pretty interesting — it’s basically orbiting earth a few times a day, and most people are unaware of it.  How could I visualize that?  Almost instantly I got the idea of a skirt that would show the orbit of the space station around the earth —  an Orbit Skirt!  I knew I could use Lilypad Arduino and LED’s to show the path.  Then the programming could allow the LED’s to blink in such a way that they would show how far along the space station was in its orbit.  Doing all of this in two days was going to be rough, so I posted on NASA’s website for a team member.  I got lucky, because a wonderful woman named J. Brooks Zurn with an engineering background answered the call.  While I spent time creating the skirt, she would work on the programming.

I started  by taking one of NASA’s photos of the earth and making it into an iron on graphic.  Then I used the handy Lilypad stickers to layout the locations of all the electronics so I could create chalk lines for the stitching.  Stitching 17 LED’s into a skirt without crossing conductive thread paths was challenging, and keeping the Arduino and battery pack hidden in the skirt’s pocket lining was even trickier.  By the time things were finished, I could barely get the programming cable into the skirt to meet the Arduino.  There’s certainly something to be said for accessibility.  In any case, the sewing was completed just as Brooks was emailing her latest version of the code.

Space App Judges

Surrounded by the Judges

We finished with 15 min. to spare — just in time to present.  My whole goal was to complete the hackathon, so I had no strategy in place for the presentation.  Meanwhile, other groups were swiftly putting together graphics and power point presentations.  Finally I was forced to wing it.  I told the story of the underdog (me) with barely a hackathon under my belt, and how I had managed to take on all of these new skills and a team member to complete this skirt.  It must have worked, because Brooks and I got third place and we both received huge boxes of K’Nex toys.  Here’s a video of the finished skirt — can’t wait to come up with the men’s tie version.