INTERVIEW: Teknikio Likens Wearable Tech to Zippers

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“Wearable technology” is creating quite the buzz these days. Though it might seem very high-tech, some very interesting wearables are actually quite low-tech and do not require any programming or high level engineering. Brooklyn Fashion+Design Accelerator based business Teknikio believes that adding electronics to wearables is easier than most objects as our clothes are already such a natural interface.

According to Carnegie Mellon, Teknikio founder Deren Guler took a nontraditional science path, following her undergraduate physics degree with a master’s in tangible interaction design from the School of Architecture. The idea for Teknikio first sparked while Guler was a graduate teaching assistant, watching architecture and design students struggling with microcontroller platforms like the popular Arduino toolkits.”

“We interact with zippers and snaps and buttons on a daily basis, and all of these can be used as inputs for a wearable circuit,” says Guler.

We caught up with Guler to help us get one step closer to understanding how approachable and digestible this new “wearable technology” can be.

You told me that wearables are actually quite low-tech. Explain where the misconceptions are.

Sure, I meant this in reference to a “getting started”. I feel when people hear “wearables” they think of Apple watches and other high-tech gadgets, when really anything we wear is a wearable. Adding even the simplest “low-tech” circuit, take for example a light switch, will qualify it as wearable tech. There are many kits and tools on the market that actually make getting started with wearables very accessible. At Teknikio we even focus on people who might not know how to sew. I think sewing a simple light circuit is a wonderful first sewing project and teaches you several different techniques of circuit design and sewing at once!

We are in the early stages of wearables and technology. If you were to liken it to when people used to have big box phones in their cars in the 80s, where would you put wearables’ evolution?

To piggy back on that example, there were very few people with phones in their cars, and in some respects is was really a status symbol. Others thought it was cool, but it didn’t really seem necessary, and look at us now- we can’t live without mobile phones! Some of the coolest wearables (in my opinion) exist at a similar scale and are being adapted by a very small group. The main obstacle is that it is hard to make wearables widespread overnight. There are many layers and each one presents new problems, from manufacturing, to connectivity, to material development. So it is kind of similar to when people first started putting cars in phones, now that idea seems ridiculous because we can just connect with Bluetooth to our mobile phones. Something similar could happen and might need to happen with wearables, a new technology or a new material could suddenly make it much easier to adapt.

With Teknikio creating gender-neutral toolsets for ages 8+, do you see what you are doing as educating or entertaining a new generation of kids as say Lincoln Logs or Legos once did?

I suppose both, but if I had to choose I would say educating. Sometimes I explain it to people as “we’re showing kids how to make their own toys.” Toys are tools for entertainment, but if you are learning how to make your own toys it becomes educational. You are learning concepts of engineering, design, craft and much more. Ultimately we believe these kinds of hands-on experiences will empower people to make their own gadgets and tools and put these concepts to use in the real world, whether it be for entertainment or otherwise. Our mission is to give future generations the creative confidence and know-how to invent solutions and express themselves.

To meet Deren and to sew an LED heart on your sleeve, RSVP here now for tomorrow’s Tech Tuesday!