Experimental Device for Performance – Wearables Project.03

Hack a device. This week’s project focuses on re-appropriating cheap consumer technology for use in a wearable. My device of choice was the point and shoot Polaroid 600 instant camera.

But how to make it into a wearable?

Camera technology has always fascinated me. The image is a powerful thing, but with the image’s exponential proliferation and exploitation, what value does the image still hold? Is image still truth. Is it still time? Is image iconic? These are the things I’ve been thinking about heading into this weeks project.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to make a wearable that takes a picture of the wearer. I want the shutter to be activated by a gestural action that does not involve pressing a button – preferably an involuntary action. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

A camera attached to a bike helmet that takes a picture using the eyes as physical switches. That’s right. The eyes as physical switches and conductive fabric glued to my face.

And here’s how I got there:

First I need to get a new Polaroid camera with a momentary push-button switch instead of a mechanical switch (usually found on the older models) to trigger the shutter. It is amazing how fast Polaroids are disappearing from the market these days. You can buy a digital keychain camera for half the price of a new Polaroid. What’s more, a 3-pack of film for a Polaroid costs about as much as the camera itself. An expensive habit.

Time to hack the Polaroid. These cameras are usually fairly well put together as any light sensitive equipment should be. The thing about instant Polariods though is that they are usually snap together. Luckily this model has 3 tiny screws holding the sides together after it pops open. After taking the screws out I carefully pry off the top to reveal the innards. The goods:

I’ve located the shutter release as pictured above and determined through testing that the center switch and one of the periphery switches need to be closed simultaneously to trigger the shutter to release. With this figured out I can go on to snipping the existing wires and soldering leads for new switches that I’ll add later.

Getting the casing back together is surprisingly easy, with a little care. My camera appears to be back in working order. Testing the new leads I’ve soldered only requires closing the switches. That just means touching all the wires together at once. Flash. Good. It works.

I’ll run these leads along a wire hanger I’ve bent to attach the camera to a bike helmet. I’ll terminate the leads in half-snaps so that I can convert the wire to conductive thread for the switch interface. (See this post for more info on snaps and converting wire to conductive thread and fabric)

On to the switches.

Swithces. Binary. Open. Closed. Eyes. Binary. Sexy. Why. Why not?
I’ve always wanted to translate the movement of eyelids to the opening and closing of a switch. Using conductive fabric, conductive thread and some spirit gum, I’ve finally got a solution.

I’ve cut the conductive fabric in thin strips and frayed the edges to give them more of a fake eyelash look. I’ve carefully sewn the conductive thread to the lashes at one end and to the other half of my snap connectors at the other. I attach them to my face making sure that the leads don’t touch eachother. I snap the lash switches to the snaps on the helmet and I’ve got a working system.

With the switches wired up correctly, the wearer has to close both eyes at the same time to get the shutter to release. This way all you get are pictures with the wearers eyes closed.

Most pictures look something like this: link