DIY Wearables

Dataglove

Originally Published on ActiveWirehead.com

Februaury 5, 2015

Rule Cyberspace with Your Digital Fist

For those who want to embrace the future of wearable computing , but either can’t afford the new tech or want to make their own there are a lot of options .  You can build a wide array of machines using modular parts, which makes it convenient to rearrange devices and allows you to tackle a larger project in bite-sized pieces. Today I’m going to talk about my design for a wireless glove that allows you to control your mouse functions with the wave of a hand.

A little History

Called Data Gloves, Cyber Gloves, and sometime Wired Gloves, the first instance of a glove based computer interface was the Sayre Glove in 1977. Early experimental gloves used photocells and fiber optics to measure finger movement, later gloves used electrical resistance flex sensors. Positional tracking was usually based on cameras but other methods like paired ultrasonic transmitters and receivers were also tried.

While most of the gloves developed since the Sayre glove have been experimental systems, there have been consumer models. Professional data gloves were expensive affairs that really only saw use in a few limited fields like motion capture. On the consumer side there were some affordable data gloves, the most notable example being the Nintendo Power Glove.

The Nintendo Power Glove was the first to really capture people’s imagination. It wasn’t very well supported, and had its share of technical problems, but its futuristic design and intuitive interface inspired writers and cyberpunks for a generation. Data gloves appeared in a number of sci-fi films like Johnny Mnemonic and The Minority Report, and inspired the gesture based computers seen in Iron Man.

Making your own, on a budget

Clearly, I’m a big ol’ nerd, and obsessed with cyberpunk and wearable computers. Ever since I first saw Johnny Mnemonic I wanted my own, but the professional models were way out of my price range. In the early 2000’s I used an Essential Reality P5 glove for 3d modeling. It was fairly cheap, but was wired to my PC and required a big receiver tower on my desk for positional tracking.

For a wearable computer I had some basic requirements. It needed to be compatible with most systems and wireless. I decided I didn’t really need finger position tracking or gesture recognition, all I really wanted was mouse control. I figured that the easiest way to go about it was to find a cheap wireless air-mouse and hack it to my purposes.

The first attempt

"It's So Bad!"

I zeroed in pretty quickly on the Measy RC9 Gyroscope Air Mouse as the guts for my glove.

I got one for less than $20 from a Chinese import site. It was small and light, with all of the buttons located on top like a TV remote. It used a Bluetooth and a USB dongle so it was compatible with almost anything.

 

Ugly, but Functional

The plan was to remove the circuitry, mount everything to a light work glove, and then wire momentary switches to the button pads on the board to allow me to access mouse controls with my thumb. The board as it turns out was laid out very well for me, the button pads were big and well labeled, which was helpful to my amateur-level of soldering. With a little hot glue and wiring I was in business. I had to reduce the tracking speed in my desktop mouse settings to make it stable enough to use, but I was freely able to switch from controlling my P.C. to mousing on my Android phone and even my Linux based wearable computer rig (more on that in my next article).

I only had two gripes with this build. 1. It was ugly, the wires I used were too thick and they were all over the place. 2. You still needed to use your thumb to press the buttons. While that worked, it clearly wasn’t living up to my cyberpunk dream of waving my hand around and flexing my fingers at data.

Version 2

I thought about these issues off and on for several weeks. I could use flex sensors for the fingers, like the Power Glove of old. but I’d need to write custom micro-controller code to use them. I’m a novice coder and have no experience with micro-controllers so I back-burnered that idea. I figured that the simplest solution would be to have a mechanical linkage that presses down the buttons based on finger movement, it would keep the rig simple and allow me to reuse the same hardware, but figuring out an elegant way to do it was a challenge all on its own.

It needed to be small, light and simple enough to work every time without jamming up. The solution came to me when I saw a pair of Kobalt Maximum Impact work gloves at the hardware store. The rubber guards on the fingers would provide a great place to mount the switches, and allow me to attach thick gauge wire over each of them that would press down each switch when you flexed your fingers. As for neatness, I decided that this time around I would use thin coated magnet wire. The switches didn’t have any polarity constraints so there was no need to use different colors, and the wire barely needed to carry any current, just enough to let the PCB know that the switch was closed.

 

I used gel super-glue to mount the switches and channel the wires around the contours of the glove and used some light monofilament to sew the PCB to the back of the glove using the screw holes in the board.

The final result was miles ahead of my first prototype. Not only did it work well, but it looked pretty awesome too. For a final level of fit and finish I should make a cover for the PCB both to protect it and hide the rough edges and poor soldering, but I kinda like the hacked look of it so for now I’m going to leave it just the way it is.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little digital diversion and encourage you to go out and hack your own projects. The modern Maker/Hacker has more tools and power available on the cheap than ever before and there’s nothing to stop you from making your own hardware even on a budget.

If you’d like to build one of these yourself I’ve posted detailed instructions on Instructables:

Here’s a clip of the glove in action.