Data flies loosely in the breeze over the backyard. Uncoiling slowly, old glory beams flashes of illuminated light- hot white dots bursting from a line of stars against the navy.
Call it a #WeatherFlag.
Custom made for Fourth of July in Rhode Island, the flag contains 5 LED stars in sequence which measure the ambient air temperature. Each star, from bottom of the navy “union” box to the flag edge, represent 5 degrees of temperature above 65 F. To manage this, the flag contains a LilyPad arduino sewn with conductive thread to a powerful thermosensor and the 5 stars.
In the corner of the flag is a handcrafted map of Rhode Island, honoring the locale whose climate is being displayed.
Betsy Ross uses Arduinos
Colleen Brogan and I have been playing with e-textiles since 2011. But like so many others, we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking only about electronics and clothing. With flags in season for Independence Day, I suddenly realized that these flown fabrics are even better suited for “wearable” technology because they are visual symbols we expect to impart messages.
So we bought a cheap flag, pulled out our ready LilyPad Arduino and began brainstorming e-Flag uses. We generated about 21 ideas and then culled down to things that made the flag speak, or rather communicate something valuable. With the heat of summer all around communicating the temperature felt most right.
Colleen led our fabrication. She cut a template of Rhode Island (not the most iconic of states) and stitched it to the flag.
I worked on the arduino code ensuring a stream of thermosensor data was 1. converted to Farenheit and 2. changing our LED patterns appropriately. I was disappointed by the complications of the thermosensor – it required significant calibrating for power supply voltage (which varies from USB to battery) and conversion math to go from read-outs to recognizable temperature.
Code aboard, Colleen began stitching in the Lilypad arduino – a process very different from the more familiar wiring challenges. Threads here must both create a connective path (anchored in device endings) and hold the electronics in place. Ultimately, Colleen opted to stitch all of the electronics in with regular thread, then pursue the electrical stitching. This seems advisable.
Up on the roof
We tested the flag on our roof in the East Village because we needed a consistent temperature that was accurately reported. We also wanted to test whether a breeze or flapping impacted performance.
It didn’t, wonderfully.
Live in RI: the Weather
We hoisted the WeatherFlag in Newport, Rhode Island on July 3rd. The switch went on and worked perfectly – reading out temperatures at 80 degrees that soon dropped to 75 and then 70 around midnight.
With a battery on board, the flag was easy to transport – like an illuminated cape. But mostly, we just let it flap lightly in the seabreeze alongside our BBQ and give us a sense of heat.