Kinetic Body Extensions for Social Interactions

Come join Social Body Lab for a new Studio (workshop) at TEI 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden!

This studio invites participants to explore ways of extending physical expressivity through a combined use of wearable electronics and structural textile design. Participants are introduced to an electronics and material prototyping method developed by Social Body Lab for constructing kinetic textile body extensions intended for use in social interactions.

Participants will learn to use a servo motor in combination with folded and pleated paper, textiles, and structural materials to create a kinetic wearable module that can expand and contract in form. These kinetic modules can vary in size, form, complexity, and placement on the body, depending on the intended application. Pressure, flexion, ambient light, and electromyography (EMG) are sensors that will be explored as possible triggers for these modules using body movements and gestures. Through prototyping, testing, wearing, and group discussion, participants will explore ways in which their kinetic body extensions can amplify, extend, or subvert existing body language.

Author Keywords

wearables; body language; kinetic textiles; electromyogra- phy sensors; body augmentation


Kinetic Body Extensions for Social Interactions


How can we create wearable devices to amplify, extend, or subvert our existing body language? This studio focuses on in-person, “real life” social interactions. It invites participants to explore ways of physically extending their own expressivity via wearable electronics and structural textile design using a prototyping method developed by OCAD University’s Social Body Lab. Through the use of sensors, servo motors, and pleated and folded textile forms, participants will learn how to create kinetic wearable body extensions that expand and contract in response to intuitive body movements. We will experiment with kinetic structures that vary in size, form, complexity, and placement on the body and experiment with triggers including pressure, flexion, light, and muscle activity. Ranging from the subtle to the absurd, we will prototype new methods for extending and enhancing our physical social interactions.

Workshop Leaders

Kate Hartman is an artist, technologist, and educator whose work spans the fields of physical computing, wearable electronics, and conceptual art. She is the author of the book “Make: Wearable Electronics”, was a speaker at TED 2011, and her work is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Hartman is based in Toronto at OCAD University where she is Associate Professor of Wearable and Mobile Technology in the Digital Futures program and Director of the Social Body Lab. She is also the director of ITP Camp, a summer program at ITP/NYU in New York.

Boris Kourtoukov is an artist and wearable technology designer based in Toronto. His focus is on creating simple, tangible experiences that develop and redefine themselves through repeated interaction. Boris recently completed his contribution to the Quipucamayoc project, and participated in the Monarch and Cardinal projects as part of the Social Body lab. He is currently pursuing his masters degree in interaction design at the Oslo School of Architecture.

Erin Lewis is a PhD student in Textile Design at The Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås, Sweden. Her PhD research explores magnetic and electromagnetic textile expressions through a process of material exploration and textile design experimentation. Prior to her studies in Sweden, Erin was an instructor at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada, where she taught wearable electronics and wearable computing within the Faculty of Design.

Register here:

Studio Proposal

As our engagement with computational devices continues to expand, we are offered more extensive and diverse ways to connect with each other digitally. However, it is our view that few of the wearable computational devices on the consumer market focus on enhancing or augmenting how we as humans connect through our in person, “real life”, physical interactions. We see body language as an innate and powerful form of communication.

With this in mind, this studio creates an opportunity to ex- plore the following question: “How can kinetic body exten- sions augment social interaction through the amplification, extension, or subversion of body language?”

The first section of this studio will provide both context and a theoretical framework with which to take a critical look at the concept of body extensions. An overview will be pro- vided of works that seek to physically expand upon the hu- man form, with references stemming from contemporary art and design practice, interaction design, human com-

puter interaction, sociology, trans-humanism, fashion, textile design, architecture, sculpture, and performance art. Par- ticipants will also be asked to source and present their own examples.

The second section of the studio will provide a technical framework in which participants will be introduced to electronic circuit building as well as sheet material manipulation through folding and pleating. This framework was developed by Social Body Lab as part of the Monarch project [5]. The electronic circuit will trigger a position-sensing servo motor which, in turn, will actuate a sculptural folded-paper form designed and prototyped by the participants.

Rather than using a microcontroller, the servo motor will be controlled using a 555 timer circuit (Figure 1). Using this simple pulse generator chip allows for motor control without the need for programming [2]. Circuits will be constructed with soldered prototyping board to allow for secure, sturdy connections. There exists a rich history of using electronic textiles in the construction of wearable circuits [1, 3, 4].

Figure 1: Breadboard prototype of 555 timer servo control circuit.

However, in this case we choose to employ more traditional circuit building methods as the focus of this studio is the expressiveness of the kinetic modules rather than the con- struction of the circuit itself.

Participants will be provided with 3D printed mounts and attachments that are custom fit to the supplied servo motors (Figure 2). The servo mount allows the motors to be attached to straps or other bases which can then be attached to the body. This enables the motor to remain in a stable position when activated. The servo attachment extends the mechanical possibilities of the servos movement. When outfitted with a rod, its movement can be used to open and close a pleated or folded form. The design of these forms will be inspired by examples from the worlds of paper folding [6] and fabric pleating [7]. Forms that emphasize motion and volume will be prioritized (Figure 3).

Figure 2: Servo motor, mount, and attachment with rod to control textile form.
Figure 3: Folding and pleating tests.

Once an initial prototype is assembled, participants will be asked to play with the expressivity of their functional kinetic body extension prototype. Ideas for potential applications and methods for wearing will be discussed.

The third section of the studio will provide time for participants to further customize and contextualize their designs based on their intended application. They will explore a range of body-based sensors such as pressure, flex, ambient light, and electromyography (EMG), that can trigger the kinetic body extension. Participants will further iterate on their structural form using either textiles or paper, in addition to learning strategies for making wearable electronics and mechanical systems more wearable.

Finally, participants will have an opportunity to document their creations as well as their intended use. A simple video shoot setup will be provided so that a series of video portraits of these kinetic body extensions can be created as one of the outcomes of the studio.

Previous knowledge of electronics prototyping is helpful but not required.

Studio Topics To Be Covered
  • Folding techniques for creating form-changing structures
  • Methods of designing for movement and the body
  • Sensors and kinetic actuators
  • Physical strategies for making wearable electronic circuits and mechanical systems
  • Body extensions and body augmentation as a means of expanding body language
Expected Outcomes
  • Physical Prototypes: By the end of this studio each participant will have prototyped, personalized, worn, and iterated upon a new kinetic body extension that they can then bring back to their own communities.
  • Video portraits: The design and functionality of these prototypes will be captured in a compiled set of video portraits to be made publicly accessible after the completion of the studio.
  • Shared Ideas and Learning: It is our hope that through exploring their own creativity as well as that of their peers that participants will leave this studio with aware- ness of the potential impact, challenges, and oppor- tunities for incorporating body-extending technologies into our in-person social interactions.
Studio Supporting Web Documents

[1]   Joanna Berzowska. 2005. Electronic Textiles: Wear- able Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computa- tion. Textile 3, 1 (2005), 2–19.

[2] Jonathan Best. 2012. Control a Servo Motor With- out Programming. (Dec 2012). Retrieved Jan- uary 13, 2018 from control-a-servo-motor-without-programming/

[3] Leah Buechley, Mike Eisenberg, Jaime Catchen, and Ali Crockett. 2008. The LilyPad Arduino: Us- ing Computational Textiles to Investigate Engage- ment, Aesthetics, and Diversity in Computer Sci- ence Education. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Con- ference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
(CHI ’08). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 423–432. DOI:

[4] Leah Buechley and Benjamin Mako Hill. 2010. LilyPad in the Wild: How Hardware’s Long Tail is Supporting New Engineering and Design Communities. In Pro- ceedings of the 8th ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 199–207. DOI: 1858206

[5] Kate Hartman, Jackson McConnell, Boris Kourtoukov, Hillary Predko, and Izzie Colpitts-Campbell. 2015. Monarch: Self-Expression Through Wearable Kinetic Textiles. In Proceedings of the Ninth International Con- ference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Inter- action (TEI ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 413–414.

[6] Paul Jackson. 2011. Folding Techniques for Design- ers: From Sheet to Form. Lawrence King Publishing, London, United Kingdom.

[7] Colette Wolff. 1996. The Art of Manipulating Fabric. Krause Publications, Iola, WI, USA