A key factor in moving towards gender parity in STEM is interest at a young age. As a little girl playing fashion designer, it was hard to picture myself ever becoming a computer engineer. Although I now love the creativity involved with my major, it would not have been an apparent choice for a young girl interested in the arts. I'm thankful for the path that got me to engineering at Illinois, and I wanted to create something beautiful that would intrigue girls of all ages and help them aspire to be engineers, too.
What it does
180 individually addressable LEDs can be interfaced with via Bluetooth on any iOS device. You can select a color on your phone or laptop, and it immediately illuminates the dress! I also programmed in rainbow cycles for a more passive experience.
How I built it
After lots of sketching, I started by custom-sewing a dress out of three yards of cotton and chiffon. The dress needed to be sturdy with special pockets for the Arduino and battery pack. Extra ribbon covers the LED strips to diffuse the lighting, and special soldering was made to accommodate the zipper. Each of the three strips features 60 individually addressable RBG LEDs; wiring for power, ground, and digital signal run through the back of the dress, insulated in special fabric pockets. I connected an Adafruit Bluetooth shield to the Arduino to allow for interfacing between the lights and the user's device. I then coded the appropriate behavior to change the lights' color according to user input and even turn the dress off.
Challenges I ran into
My original plan was to use a WiFi shield and set up a server; after running into some technical difficulties, I opted for the Bluetooth shield, which had more extensive documentation on the web. The battery specifications I needed weren't available to rent, so I also have to deal with frequent Bluetooth disconnections (or plug the dress into a laptop, which is admittedly less graceful.)
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
I'm really proud that I integrated the Bluetooth shield with no prior experience. I also take a lot of pride in the dress itself, which I spent hours designing, cutting, pinning, and sewing to meet the exact design specifications.
What I learned
Always be open to refactoring your design, and be flexible in implementation. And don't forget to have fun!
What's next for TechStyle
I've had an overwhelmingly positive response from my female social network on this project. I'd like to make more LED dresses in different styles for more visibility, and so young women can see all the creative options that computer engineering offers.