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High School Students Make Technology 'Wearable'

Published on August 21, 2017 by Jorge Salazar

The Code @ TACC Wearables STEM summer camp guided 25 high school students from the Central Texas area in how to make and program their own custom wearable technology.

Technology has become more personal and wearable. Everything from fitness trackers, to sleep trackers, to heart rate headphones make it easier to keep vital information about us at our fingertips. In June 2017, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) of UT Austin hosted a summer camp for high school students to learn how to make and program their own custom wearable technology.

The Code@TACC Wearables summer STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camp guided 25 high school students from the Central Texas area in how to fashion shirts and hats with circuits connected to the Internet of Things that responded to changes in light, UV, and heat. The students took a hands-on opportunity that they might not have gotten from their regular schools to learn about the newest technology from computer scientists at TACC.

Code @ TACC Wearables camp students sharpened their entrepreneurial skills in telling the story of how their product would help a potential customer and how their solution is innovative.

Students were coached by computer scientists at the Texas Advanced Computing Center in programming with the platform, NodeJS and the Ionic Framework.

"The idea is for the students to create a product that is integrated into their clothing, collects sensor data about a user's environment, or allows them to push buttons or provide other types of physical input," said Joon-Yee Chuah, outreach coordinator at TACC. "Their projects interact with the internet and allow it to do things like send text messages, or interact with a phone app that the students create using the Ionic framework."

Students worked on individual projects with kits of small electronic components — microcontrollers, sensors, buttons, LEDs, motors, and buzzers — that could be stitched together with electronic thread into circuits on clothing. "They were given everything they needed to build the design that addressed something within their personal lives," Chuah said.

Twenty-five high school students from Central Texas spent a week at the Texas Advanced Computing Center for the Code @ TACC Wearables summer STEM camp.
Camp student Sonia Shrotriya made a wearable sensor that monitors outside temperatures and sends warning texts and audible beeps when it gets too hot for exercise activities such as bicycling.
The camp concluded with a science fair presentation to parents and TACC staff that honed their entrepreneurial skills to tell a story of how their product would help a potential customer and how their solution is innovative.

For example, one student, Nathan French, is a lifeguard. And for lifeguards, UV exposure is a big concern. French built a T-shirt device that a lifeguard can wear, with an ultraviolet sensor attached to the shoulder.

"The sensor will measure the amount of ultraviolet radiation that the lifeguard is experiencing while they're on duty. In addition, it can also send an alert when the UV index is very high, and they can get that alert on their app. That way they can put on sunscreen," French explained.

The hardest part of the project, French said, was programming the app. "I wasn't familiar with the HTML code to display the data," French said. "I would miss a slash or a space, and that would give problems. On top of all the things that can go wrong with the code, you have to add the difficulty of doing the physical wiring. I accidentally crossed the wires, so I had to cut the wire and re-route it to another path. And it worked, so that's good!"

TACC Outreach Coordinator Joon-Yee Chuah said that students got a chance to be creative with technology that's very current and not necessarily accessible in their regular classrooms.

Student Ravion Glee sewed a temperature reader on a shirt sleeve that also displays the temperature within a certain interval using LED lights.

Student Dhanvi Marrapu made a hat with a temperature sensor that displayed the room temperature on a phone app.

Camp student Geethika Hemkumar made a project that takes temperature data from the room or outdoors and through an app alerts one if they should drink more water to hydrate.

Student Nathan French used a UV sensor for his project to help lifeguards know when they need to put on sunscreen.

In the future French said he sees making his prototype waterproof and smaller so that it could actually fit into a swimsuit and one could swim with it. Camp student Geethika Hemkumar gave her final presentation on a temperature sensor affixed to a burnt orange Texas Engineering T-shirt, which displays the temperature of the surrounding environment.

"My original plan was for it to tell you how much water a user needs to drink for the day to stay hydrated," Hemkumar explained. "Based on the outside or inside temperature, one can calculate how much water one loses in a certain amount of time. The app can notify the user when it's really hot outside and whether they need to hydrate."

Another project had a circuit with bright lights sewn onto a black shirt that read, "I am a Genius." Student Ravion Glee explained that his project was a temperature reader that also displays the temperature within a certain interval using LED lights.

"Right now it's showing a yellow light, meaning the temperature is between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit," Glee explained. "The red light means that the temperature is above 80 degrees. It's likely that if you're walking around outside in Texas, you're going to see that a lot."

Student Cade Blagdan designed a hat with a UV sensor that would blink a warning light and send a text alert when a UV threshold was crossed.

Student Rex Hearn designed a wearable color meter that allows one to match real objects to Photoshop colors.

The Code @ TACC Wearables camp ended with a science fair for students to show off and field questions about their projects to parents and TACC staff.
"Initially," Glee said, "my idea came from my mom, who would sit on the couch and say that it's really cold in the house. 'It's 50 degrees in here. Why do you have the fans on?' The device I made gives me a reason to say that it's not actually cold. If it's 60 degrees or lower, a blue light will come on. Then she can say that it's definitely colder." Like the other students, Glee used the platform, which controlled the app software that displayed the temperature on his phone. He and the other students also programmed in NodeJS, using the Sublime text editor and Github repository.

"I want people to know that Code@TACC Wearables is an engaging experience for students that have some coding experience and want to experience more and see how technology can be integrated into their personal lives," Chuah said. The Code@TACC Summer STEM high school camps have instructed hundreds of students in hands-on coding since 2015. Chuah said that enthusiasm for the camps comes in part from the maker movement, a tech-based community of do-it-yourselfers. "We'd like to see some high schools replicate this program, either in afterschool programs or in some of the new maker classes that are coming out," Chuah said.

Said Chuah: "We'd also like the successes of the program to be a model for schools to understand that they need to support this type of technology from both an education and resource perspective. Also, in terms of a network infrastructure perspective, it's important to support teachers who have creative uses for their technology who just need a little more access to their school's networks."


Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor | 512-475-9411