Getting Started with Wearables Part IV: 4 Kits and Projects for New Makers

In celebration of #MarchIsForMakers, an initiative to get more coders interested in building hardware, I started this 4-part introduction to wearable technology.  Click here to see Part I of the series Getting Started with Wearables, and here for Part II on Finding the Right Microcontroller.  For Part III on Tools and Sensors, click here.


Projects are easier to do with computer engineering companies, maker organizations, hardware stores and electronic manufacturers offering their latest DIY all inclusive kits.  If you’re a beginner, you may want to start off with a wearable tech kit before developing your own project.  I’ve listed four all-inclusive kits below that come with everything you need to complete a project.

FLORA Wearable Sensor Kit

Great for: small LED light displays, door motion sensors, pedometers, and compass packs

What’s included:

  • FLORA microcontroller board
  • motion, direction, color, light level, touch and connection sensors
  • conductive fabric and thread
  • battery pack and 4 AAA batteries
  • JST extension and USB cables
  • accelerometer and compass
  • 4 RGB neopixels (for light displays)
  • sewable snaps

Where to get it: MCM Electronics

LilyPad Design Kit

Great for: making your own mini circuit board, buttons, switches, and light displays

What’s included:

  • LilyPad mini microcontroller
  • 2 rainbow LED strips
  • 7 coin cell batteries with holders
  • 3 bobbins of conductive thread (30 feet each)
  • conductive fabric and needle set
  • button board
  • slide switch
  • tutorial data sheets
  • tutorial product video

Where to get it: Robot Mesh

GEMMA Talking Toy Sound Pack

Great for: programmable toys that talk or sing to the user

What’s included:

  • GEMMA V2 microcontroller
  • 1 lipoly battery with USB charger
  • 1 tilt switch
  • 1 transistor (for amplifying sound) and resistor
  • small speak
  • 24 inches of core wire
  • 3 pieces of heat shrink

Where to get it: Adafruit Industries

Brainwave Mobile Starter Kit

Great for: EEG brainwave tracking, ECG (cardio, pulse) analysis, eSense metering

What’s included:

  • Mobile headset band with battery area
  • earclip
  • power switch
  • sensor tip
  • User guide
  • Mindwave tutorial app
  • Visualizer app
  • Speed Math app
  • Mindwave DVD with PC and OSX installation, frameworks, connectors, and utilities

Where to get it: NeuroSky


Once you have all your tools, e-textiles, and a microcontroller ready to go, it’s time to dive into some projects.  Here are four awesome ones that I handpicked for this series.

Programming Tutorial

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Sew Electric’s Programming Tutorial: I listed this one first because it is important to understand how to program your microcontroller before diving into projects.  Sew Electric offers this great tutorial on coding programs for the Lilypad to make e-textile projects more interesting.

Great for: newbs and young makers**

Total estimated time commitment: 3-5 hours.

Metawear’s MetaForce Wristband Project: This is a cool project if you don’t want to spend a lot of time


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getting started.  Essentially, you will create a wristband using the Metawear microcontroller that gives feedback while you’re playing games on an iphone.  You can program it to vibrate when shooting a target, ring when scoring a point, buzz as a timer, and provide other feedback. The drawback is that this project requires a bit of soldering so you’ll need that extra tool.  For mobile gamers, it could be worth it.

Great for: mobile gamers and avid iphone users

Total estimated time commitment: 1-3 hours.


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Instructables Sound Reflective Headphones Project: Program your headphones to react to the sound of music in your ears.  This project works with the FLORA microcontroller and LED lights.  Due to it’s popularity among makers, the project has been updated to customize the headphones to provide light displays or use smaller microcontrollers.

Great for: music lovers

Total estimated time commitment: 4-6 hours.


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Makezine’s NeoGeo Watch: This project uses the most tools but also packs in the most functionality.  The watch functions as a timekeeper, compass, and GPS, using LEDs to show the user direction and time.  It works with the FLORA microcontroller and accelerometers to create a compact GPS system.

Great for: hikers, outdoorsmen

Total estimated time commitment: 4-6 hours.

In this series, we were introduced to wearables and how the technology is going beyond just being trendy.  In part I, we discussed how wearable tech is becoming more in demand in the healthcare, fitness, and mobile industries by providing the user with data in real time.  I reviewed how the individual parts form together in making a polished project.  In part II, we went over microcontrollers specifically and how they contribute to wearable tech as the main “brain” of a project.  Later in Part III, we focused on organizing a well-stocked toolbelt, taking into consideration the different kinds of tools and sensors you might want include in your project.  Finally, we’re ready to order our kits and get a project or two going!

Thanks for joining me on this series, and best of luck to you on your projects.*


*Statement of Disclosure: As the author of the series, I am not affiliated with any of the brands or manufacturers listed in the posts.  I also do not represent any company tied with any of the technology reviewed.
**Disclaimer: The projects listed are best suitable for youth with adult supervision.

Getting Started with Wearables Part III: Tools and Sensors

In celebration of #MarchIsForMakers, an initiative to get more coders interested in building hardware, I started this 4-part introduction to wearable technology.  Click here to see Part I of the series Getting Started with Wearables, and here for Part II on Finding the Right Microcontroller.

Putting Together Your Toolkit

Wearable tech is small enough to be worn, so your average hammer and nail set won’t do when making something purposed for micro-scale.  There are a variety of different tools and sensors you will need to be familiar with in order to get started.  Even if you don’t have a project in mind, it’s best to know what tool or sensor to use, for what purpose, and what they do.  In today’s post in the series, I have put together a short guide to help you know what’s what :


Circuit: A circuit is a series of electronic components connected on a board of strip using wires. On a circuit board, conductive tracks are etched into it using copper sheets to allow for the flow of electricity.

Breadboard: A board of connections prearranged and represented by a hole.  The holes have a metallic spring underneath that links them by column. Breadboards are used to house circuits.  For example, you connect an LED to the breadboard using a resistor (the power control source).

Jumper wires: These are wires used to connect sensors and wireless modules.  Jumper wires are female and connect to a male pin terminator in a sensor or modules that allow electrical current control.  The pins can also be used to connect to a breadboard to house circuits.

Arduino Circuit(Figure I: An arduino uno microcontroller is linked to a breadboard using jumper wires. Notice the USB cable on the upper left that can function as a power source or laptop connection.  The breadboard also has a red DOF motion sensor attached to it ready for programming. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Switch: A component that can open or close an electrical circuit connection.

LED: A small source of light based on a semiconductor

Resistor: A resistor limits the electricity that flows to a LED keeping it at an optimum amount of power.


Accelerometer: A motion sensor that measures acceleration forces, in particular, g-force, which determines rate of change.  Accelerometers in your wearable projects helps to determine and analyse if the device is moving and/or tilted.

Magnometer: A motion center that measure the direction of magnetic fields at a point in space. The most common magnometers used today are compasses.  This sensor can be useful in GPS-based projects.Clime Sensor

(Figure II: Clime is an example of an environmental sensor that tracks humidity, light, temperature, and movement. Image source:

Oximeter: A type of electro-cardigraph (ECG) reader that measures blood oxygen and pulse rates.

Skin Conductance sensor: A sensor that measures body temperature and how much you sweat. These are most useful in exercise tracking wearables that can track how many calories burned during a workout based on hydration, temperature, and acceleration levels.

Environmental sensors: These type of sensors can measure humidity, temperature, and read UV rays.

apple watch(Figure III: Apple watch uses over 10 type of sensors which may include magnometer, oximeter, EEG and skin conductance sensors)

EEG sensors: An electro-encephalograph reader is leveraged in wearables to provide certain types of biofeedback to the user.  Using powerful algorithms, these sensors can measure brainwave activity and can be programmed to respond to user attention and meditative states, common for tracking sleep activity.

Light sensors: A type of optical sensor that measures ambient light. Light sensors can be connected to LEDs which allow for greater user control.

After researching, I found most of the tools to range in price from $2-$15 USD, which is not bad considering scale.  Depending on strength, flexibility, power control, and programmable options, sensors can range anywhere from $5 for the most basic type of magnometer to $100 for an elite EEG sensor.  It’s up to you to decide how much you want to invest, but a great option would be to go for a project kit which has the microcontroller, tools, and sensors already included.  In the next and final post in this series, I’ll go over some project kits that are both affordable and great for beginners available.

Getting Started With Wearables Part II: Finding the Right Microcontroller

In celebration of #MarchIsForMakers, an initiative to get more coders interested in building hardware, I started this 4-part introduction to wearable technology.  Click here to see Part I of the series Getting Started with Wearables.

Microcontroller Basics

The microcontroller is the main app processor.  Known as the MCU, microcontrollers run the programs that make wearables function.  In choosing the right MCU for your project, there are a number of factors such as size, water tolerance, power, and wireless protocols to consider.  Think about a project where you are designing a type of wristband.  You would want your microcontroller to be smaller in scale, bendable, and acceptable to moisture (sweat) as well as curved surfaces (for movement).  In that project, aesthetics are just as important as hardware.

Likewise, because microcontrollers need to connect with other devices, such as a running app on your phone or laptop, a wireless connection is vital.  Some MCUs will be required to support certain wireless protocols such as ANT+, BLE (Bluetooth low energy) and/or IEE 802.15.4.  Microcontrollers also operate at low-power to conserve battery life.  To help conserve power, MCUs that come equipped with 32-bit ARM architecture are popular for achieving the best energy efficiency.

The Right MCU For You

Now that you know some basics about Microcontrollers, let’s discuss which ones would be great for your project.  Although, Raspberry Pi and Arduino remain the most popular MCUs on the market, we will need ones that are smaller in scale, fashionably aesthetic, and acceptable to movement, liquid, and different surfaces.  There are lots examples that are excellent for wearables.  I chose my top six below:

lilypad arduino microcontrollerLilypad Arduino: Made in collaboration with SparkFun Electronics and Arduino, this washable MCU comes with light and temperature sensors, LED, vibrator motors, and speakers. The Lilypad is very beginner friendly and has a great learning community around that offers tutorials and project videos.

XADOW Mainboard: Different models of the XADOW come equipped with LED, Xadow microcontrollerBLE, barometer and light sensors, and acceleration detectors.  What’s cool about the XADOW is that the MCU can be manufactured by scale in different sizes, so whether you need metal framing or a flexible wristband model, it can be customized.

Flora microcontrollerFLORA: This sewable MCU is Arduino-based and comes in multiple mini sizes.  Along with built-in USB support, different types of the model come with LED, GPS modules, JST battery connectors, and sensors for light, temperature, and motion. Like the Lilypad, what makes FLORA stand out is the community support. There are lots of tutorials, starter packs, and project books based on the MCU for beginners.

Tinylily Mini: The Tinyliy functions like the Lilypad but packs the 32 bit processor power at 1/12th of theTinylily microcontroller size.  The MCU is washable and sewable but comes barebones.  Other components such as USB port, LED, sensors, and adaptors will need to be bought in a separate starter pack.

Squarewear 2.0Squarewear 2.0: The 2.0 and mini versions are open-sourced and Arduino-based. Although the Arduino IDE is based in C, any language can be used to program Squarewear with a Arduino compiler (think Artoo for Ruby developers). This MCU comes equipped with an on board USB port for charging, light and temperature sensors, buzzers, and LED.  The 2.0 version also has an on board lithium battery charger.

ARM Cortex-M: This MCU is for more advanced projects and those who don’t mind a bit of soldering. The ARM CortexCortex-M operates with apps based on C/C++ and offers OS support.  Being the most electronic based out of the others, it has a 32-bit processor, is designed for low power operation, BLE enabled, and comes with instructions for sleep modes and comprehensive debug features.

For those worried about price, most microcontrollers go from about $20-$30 USD depending on the brand and manufacturer.  It’s always good to have a project in mind before investing in a MCU in order to make sure you get the right model with the proper features.  Now that we discussed the brains, I’ll be moving on to sensors and data collection in Part III of this series on wearables. Keep watching for more updates!

#MarchIsForMakers, Getting Started with Wearables

If you haven’t heard #MarchIsForMakers.  As an initiative to get more tech savvy people interested in hardware, several tech organizations are promoting projects for tinkerers.  For coders, writing programs requires us to have knowledge of how computer servers work to compile code.  This March, we’re encouraged to get our hands dirty literally and make a programmable device in order to learn in the process. To celebrate, my latest series will focus on wearables, with the first post offering an introduction. Let’s get started!

What’s the Big Deal?

Google Glass, Fitbit wristbands, Apple Watches– they all fall into the category of wearable technology.  Wearables are computer and electronic based tech that can be worn by a user, and includes basic functions, features, or fashion.  Wearables can be networked to store data or send alerts to the user depending on the maker’s interest.  Much of the tech used to create wearables are not new, but with the trend of the quantified self gaining popularity, the data gathered from wearables allows users to gain greater insight of themselves.  Sensors used in the design can do tasks such as track sleeping patterns, count calories burned, measure heart rate, luminate surroundings, and even provide aid in hearing.  Following along the internet of things trend, wearables are fashion with a focus: providing info users want and need on demand.

Getting Started

For those interested in building their own wearable device, there are materials that you’ll need to get started.  Here’s a look at what your toolbox should include:

squarewear microcontroller

figure 1

The Microcontroller: This is a small, programmable computer. Some are even washable. Examples include Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Launchpad, Penguino, Teensy and others.  My writeup on different types of wearable microcontrollers you can use is planned later in the series, so I won’t go into detail here.  Just know that the microcontroller is the computer and “brain” of the wearable.

(Figure 1: Squarewear, a mini programmable microcontroller great for wearables)

heart sensor

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Sensors: The sensors gathers information about the environment or user. This includes light, temperature, motion (via acc) or location (via gps) of the environment, and heart rate (ECG), brain waves (EEG), and muscle tension (EMG) of the users. While some microcontrollers may come with basic sensors, advanced sensors may have to be obtained separately from a manufacture. I’ll dive into these more heavily in another post of our series.

(Figure 2: an EMG sensor that measures pulse rate connected to a battery-powered Arduino microcontroller)

Actuators: These are motor drives that are responsible for controlling the project. The most common are linear actuators used in basic disk drives and come with connectivity wires to power it from the microcontroller via USB. You will use the actuator to connect the microcontroller to  programming script on that makes the wearable function. This particular tool is hard to understand, so I included a great video tutorial below on how an actuator (in this case a servo motor) is programmed:

Input and Outputs: Unlike the pins you would see on a traditional motherboard, microcontrollers will have eyelets and snaps made of metal which you can loop conductive thread through or connect cables with. You’ll want to have a few input and output cables handy as well as USB connectivity wires to assist you on your project.

conductive fabric

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Conductive Textiles: These textiles include thread, fabric, electrical paint, fabric for capacitive touch sensors, hook-and-loop for switches. What makes them unique is that the material contains metal within it which allows electrical currents to flow.

(Figure 3: a connected piece of conductive fabric that will measure hand motion)


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Power: Some microcontrollers have an holder for coin batteries which are great for low-powered projects. Those with a standard JST connector are more versatile.

(Figure 4: a battery powered MSP430 Launchpad)

Networking: In order to communicate with devices, the internet, or other wearables, you will need a wifi connection.

scratch program

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Computer, laptop, or netbook:  While the microcontroller does serve as the basic computer used in wearables, you’ll want to have another PC available to provide you with a UI and to code your scripts.

(Figure 5: Scratch script that will program the microcontroller connected by USB cables. Notice the connected actuator on the right)

Once you have a basic toolbox, you can dive into some really cool projects. Make Zine, Hackaday, Instructables, and Adafruit Industries all publish great books, videos, and tutorials on projects that cover anything from creating LED light powered signs to weather monitoring to even assembling your own open-source smart watch.  If you are looking for materials, Maker Shed offers great prices on tools and networking tidbits, or you can visit your local hardware store.  Just to make sure we have overall understanding to how things connect, I’ll be discussing microcontrollers in the next post of the series.  Stay tuned for more ideas of which microcontroller you should include in a project and how to program it.