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Wireless router garment runs on Linux threads

Apr 22, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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The “BB.Suit,” a wearable wireless router garment prototype created by Dutch design house By Borre, runs OpenWRT Linux on a TP-Link router board.

Last month at South-by-Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, Dutch fashion designer Borre Akkersdijk unveiled his wearable computer called the BB.Suit. While most wearables are eye- or wrist-wear, the BB.Suit is an actual onesie garment with electronic circuitry woven in, including Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, and a WiFi access point.

Akkersdijk, who is better known by his designer brand name “By Borre,” collaborated at the show with Dutch music service 22Tracks. Their software enabled showgoers to upload favorite music tracks to a community playlist that could be downloaded by others. A Google Maps interface let users track the location of the suit around Austin.



BB.Suit prototype
(click image to enlarge; source: Want.nl)

Some more details on the suit emerged in a Mar. 31 story at Want.nl [Google Translation], and a follow-up story appeared earlier this week at Wired. We decided to ask Akkersdijk if the BB.Suit happened to run Linux, and were somewhat surprised to find that it did, even though it’s the stripped-down OpenWRT variety. Now that we think of it, however, given the suit’s array of wireless networking devices, OpenWRT makes more sense than an Arduino SBC or microcontroller running a lower-end software platform.

There are only two prototypes of the BB.Suit, but Akkersdijk is now talking to technology companies about creating an actual product. The suit was made with the help of the Eindhoven University of Technology’s Wearable Senses lab, housed in the Department of Industrial Design. It was specifically intended for SXSW, Akkersdijk told LinuxGizmos. “The most important was to show that we are thinking and working on a platform for sensors around the body,” he added.



More views of the BB.Suit
(click images to enlarge; source: Want.nl)

The BB.Suit is built around a circuit board from a portable TP Link TL-MR3020 WiFi router. The BB.Suit runs OpenWRT Linux on the Atheros AR9002AP-1S chipset [PDF], which combines an Atheros AR9285 WiFi chip with a MIPS24k based AR7240 processor. However, the design could use “any processor with enough available memory,” said Akkersdijk.


TP-Link TL-MR3020 (left) and its circuit board

According to the designer, the BB.Suit makes use of a “captive portal plugin” called Nodogsplash, which is designed to set up a free, secure WiFi hotspot. Akkersdijk also revealed that the GPS receiver is connected through a serial connection to the router PCB, and processed using the GPSD framework.

Akkersdijk told Wired that the two-layer cotton design weaves the electronics, as well as UI actuators and batteries, into the BB.Suit’s pockets. According to the story, he originally got into wearable computers by hacking circular knitting machines to create three-dimensional fabrics that “knit two layers of fine cotton thread so that they would envelope a coarser, synthetic fiber that puffs up when steamed.”

Then Akkersdijk found a way to add conductive thread, and he 3D-printed a threaded pillow that connected pressure sensors, a battery, and vibrating motors in a design that was intended to “allow people suffering from dementia to communicate with loved ones,” says Wired. From there, he refined his 3D knitting techniques to create the BB.Suit.

The challenge going forward will be to find a way to integrate electronics into lighter garments, he told Wired. Even with heavier garments like the BB.Suit, durability and scaling to volume production remain obstacles, he said.

Despite these challenges, clothing-computers offer potential advantages not offered by fashion accessories such as smartwatches and eyewear, Akkersdijk told Wired. He did not elaborate, but true wearables, which were pioneered at MIT Media Lab and other research institutions, could potentially offer a much greater surface area to expand functionality, among other benefits.

“Wearable technology does not exist at all,” Akkersdijk was quoted as saying. “It’s carry-able technology.”

 
Further information

No timetable was mentioned by Akkersdijk for future “By Borre” branded wearable clothing based on the BB.Suit design. More information may eventually emerge at his designer company website, ByBorre.com.
 

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