We invited all electronics engineers, makers, and apparel designers to conceive and build a 'safe and sound' wearable for a Design Challenge that protects a person from personal and environmental risks, monitors personal health, or protects personal property from theft. Their designs incorporated Texas Instruments’ latest microcontroller into wearables that were truly Safe & Sound. dougw ultimately won the challenge, designing a set of wearable sensors that can read air quality, carbon monoxide, UV light, and more; dwinhold took second, with a cold weather survival suit that senses temperature, warms the wearer, and is water resistant, making it in many ways superior to similar products available on the market now; ipv1 contributed a jacket that relays various real-time data about its wearer to the cloud while operating on solar power; and msimon designed a safety helmet for miners that can track environmental risks.
Q: What inspired you to join this design challenge?
Dale: The theme “Safe & Sound” was my biggest inspiration. I was in Search & Rescue for many years which makes this challenge important. Spending nights in -40C weather while searching for a lost person made me wish I had my suit with me back then.
Inderpreet: I had never worked on a wearable design challenge, and it was something that I wanted to tick off my list for a long time. Then came the idea of the project itself - a connected jacket - which stemmed from an accident I witnessed a few years ago.
Douglas: I have a long bucket list of projects I am interested in pursuing; one of them is a real “Tri-Corder” device (of Star Trek fame). That kind of capability implies a massive project, but this Safe and Sound theme was a good way to start down that road with a practical development. The comprehensive kit supplied by Texas Instruments looked very well suited to this project and the more I learned about it, and the more I thought about how to implement a system, the more enthusiastic I got.
Q: What surprised you about your work as you developed your design over the 11 weeks of the challenge?
Douglas: I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to build a complex microcontroller system with a LCD, wireless capabilities, and lots of sensors using the TI modules. That is not to say it was totally easy, but systems of this complexity used to take years to develop. It was easy enough and flexible enough that when the deadline was extended, I managed to build a second system (a wireless MQTT subscriber) using the same TI modules. I was not so pleasantly surprised at how fast CO2 can build up in a room full of people and at some of the electric field measurements I took!
Inderpreet: As technology evolves, support material becomes obsolete. I found myself wrestling with demo code and sample projects at a point, which was unexpected. It was not so much the development phases but rather the final end result that was a surprise; most of the pieces just fell together in the end, like the solar powered display. Using the EVM with a solar panel and super cap was not intended to sustain the LCD, but it just made sense.
Q: Was the kit provided to you appropriate for your design?
Douglas: The kit from Texas Instruments was extensive there were 8 modules based on the BoosterPack standard that made it possible to assemble a variety of very capable system configurations The in particular is a powerful general-purpose MCU that made an excellent platform for my applications And the Wi-Fi Network Processor saved a huge amount of time in getting wireless communications working
Mehmet: Yes, it was a good combination. MSP432 was the main processor required for the contest. There were Bluetooth and Wi-Fi boards for the communication interface, and a sensor board for collecting data, although I implemented my own sensor board, hence it was easier to program.
Inderpreet: It was more than enough, and I felt it was one of the better kits from the past design challenges.
Q: What was the biggest technical problem you encountered during the challenge?
Dale: The biggest technical problem I encountered was the temperature sensors (I thought). This issue held my project up for 2 weeks. I asked the community for help, the sensor supplier and others. I finally came across information that Energia was outdated and wouldn’t support temperature sensors.
Inderpreet: The software support material was a tad inconsistent; however, the TI e2e community support has more material on that than the official documentation. It is scattered, though, so it takes a little time and imagination to put humpty dumpty together again
Douglas: There were lots of problems with mechanical design, software, and sensor calibration, but perhaps the biggest challenge was: I had to design a custom sensor BoosterPack-compatible PCB to handle 5 sensors that I had never used before, and I had to get it right on the first try. Between all the TI modules and this custom BoosterPack, the system ended up using almost every pin on the BoosterPack connectors.
Q: What techniques have you used for the first time in this build?
Inderpreet: This is my first wearable so my better half was responsible for making the electronics a part of actual clothing. This has to be the first time I used one of my own jackets and ripped holes in it for a project. But I think the result was satisfying to a point and we learned to add electronics to clothes.
Mehmet: I haven’t used RTOS before. It was confusing at the beginning, but in time it helped me a lot as I was making changes on the code.
Dale: I would have to say the heating elements and how to make them work properly and figure out the right voltage for the correct temperature. They were very easy to use and accomplished exactly what they were planned for.
Q: How has the community helped in your project?
Inderpreet: A pat on the back can go a long way, and encouraging words are far more important than technical advice. It is always a great experience to have people cheer you on through the highs and the lows! Special thanks to the e14 team, and members like Jan Cumps, Andy (WorkshopShed), Fred Vandenbosch, and Shabaz for inspiring words and projects.
Douglas: Their participation was a critical contributor to the success of the challenge. It is their participation that gives meaning to the effort and the time they spent reading and thinking about the challenge is a measure of its value.
Mehmet: They helped me out a lot! I got really good contributions on ATEX / Intrinsic safety. I wasn’t aware of these protocols before, and my initially proposed sensor could have caused an explosion instead of being helpful. We were competing in the same contest, but it didn’t feel like we were opponents.
Q: What are you going to do with your prototype now?
Douglas: All of my sensor systems ended up to be fully wearable, fully functional and packaged well enough to be useful in ongoing environmental monitoring, so that is one thing that will happen. I am still getting requests to borrow my systems, so others will probably continue to try them out. I am also toying with the idea of commercializing my custom BoosterPack since it can accommodate a wide variety of standard sensors and minterface them to a variety of TI MCU modules.
Dale: Since the challenge has ended I have been working on making the suit more polished. I am wanting to make the controller more compact and secure the wiring better. The overall design works great but improvement is necessary. I would like to go further with the prototype as I feel it would benefit a lot of people in many different fields of interest.
Q: What words of wisdom can you give to future challengers?
Douglas: Try hard to get involved in element14 Design Challenges and challenge yourself to stretch your capabilities. These challenges take effort, but that is one of the reasons you will remember the project forever and will always be proud of the accomplishment. The world stage of an element14 Design Challenge adds whole dimensions to a personal project, and is actually something you will want to write home about.
Dale: It doesn’t matter what your idea is for a proposal, send it in! If chosen, put all your effort into completing your design. If you run into issues or don’t know how to do something, ask the community, we are here to help. And remember: the time goes quickly, so plan out your project week by week.