School of Visual Arts
We would love a bag to tell us what we are about to leave behind!
The RFID tracking of contents is both useful and timely.
Helpful, useful, and visually fun – love the lights.
The Chameleon Bag combines RFID technology and RGB LEDs into an interactive messenger bag with a reactive front panel. I combined a Boarduino microcontroller, an RFID reader, and 49 RGB LEDs to create delightful animations and patterns across the bag's front flap as the user places different RFID tagged objects into the bag. It also functions to remind the user if certain objects are missing from their bag.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The Chameleon Bag is the final project for my Making Studio class. I had free rein to design and develop a self-driven project with only the constraints of being handmade and including electronics.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
I decided to work with RFID technology to find a fun, interactive and captivating way to implement it, as it is seldom used outside of security systems and dog doors. I also used this opportunity to play with RGB LEDs and utilize my sewing skills. I originally wanted to make a piece of clothing that would be reactive and change with the user's moods through RFID tagged objects, but a skirt or shirt could not be worn multiple days in a row. I decided that a messenger bag would be the best option because of its natural ability to hold different RFID tagged objects and to be carried every day without being a fashion faux pas.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The research for this project focused on current uses of RFID technology and discovering untapped potential for it. I did extensive searches for unique RFID projects, specifically looking for playful and educational uses. I worked with subject experts, Becky Stern and Leif Krinkle, for guidance in the electronics set-up and troubleshooting. Most of the difficulty of this project was troubleshooting issues with the electronics and coding, specifically: setting up the Boarduino microcontroller, installing heat sinks, getting the proper power supply, getting the code to work properly, and uploading the code. Many hours of testing, retesting, and tweaking occurred before the final prototype was fully functional. In addition to electronics and coding, I tested many fabric and foam materials to find the proper level of diffusion for the front LED panel and decided to use a thin white canvas and one inch thick upholstery foam. My audience and stakeholder are the end-user who will own this bag and the hobbyist who can make this project. For the user, I started with three different uses for the bag: color-matching to clothing, delight and mood sharing, and functional reminder, but the open-source foundation of this project allows the end-user to code their own uses and colors for the bag. For the hobbyist and maker, I hope that the example of this project and the availability of the code on my website gives them the guidance they need to pursue a similar project or to build off of this project to take it further.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The value of the Chameleon Bag is its varied uses, its quality, and its educational aspect. Designed into the coding are three specific uses, with the potential for more. First, the bag changes its color to match clothing or accessories, such as a scarf, previously embedded with an RFID tag. The bag also allows for delightful interaction by the user placing a favorite totem, marked with an RFID tag, into the bag, causing a cheery animation to share her good mood with the people around her. Finally, the bag keeps track of what is placed inside and warns the user if she is missing an important item, such as keys or cell phone. The quality of the bag is in its details in the sewing and the assembly of the electrical components. The messenger bag has an inner lining, pockets on the inside and outside, and a thick adjustable strap with reinforced connections. It's designed for everyday use and is made with a durable canvas fabric. The electronics are securely soldered and held in place in spaces cut out of the upholstery foam back panel. This project is also educational in nature, by demonstrating different uses of an older technology (RFID) and by sharing my code to inspire and enable other makers to build off of it.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
The Chameleon Bag fits the DIY category for many reasons. All of the pieces of this project were completely soldered and handmade by me, including soldering the RFID reader, Boarduino microcontroller, and light assembly; and designing, patterning, and sewing the messenger bag. The electronic components I used are open-source, allowing others to easily replicate the project with available electronics. Also, I have shared my process and code on my blog and other websites, hoping to inspire other makers to tackle and use these components in fun, new ways.