Atari Women E-Textile Outfit Design
Video by Kellie Dunn
Atari Women 8-bit Heroine Costume
3 months (January - March 2019)
Atari Women is a research project aimed at celebrating the hidden stories of women and gender minorities who made crucial engineering contributions to Atari games in the early 70s and 80s. It is organized in collaboration between the Human Centred Computing (HCC) Section at University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and the Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) Department at University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
In 10 weeks, our team of three HCDE students created the 8-Bit Atari Heroine e-textile cosplay for the Atari Women Project’s first event at Emerald City Comic Con in 2019. This piece was subsequently featured at Living Computers: Museum + Labs, at the Hypnotica 2019 e-textile fashion show, and at a presentation at Microsoft Research.
Our project motivation is to help prevent misrepresentation and retell the stories of women who made contributions to the early days of gaming. We want to reestablish their presence and connect them to today’s modern narrative of women in gaming and computer science.
This is our initial concept sketch made by Kellie. For our design, we agreed on a one-piece jumpsuit, featuring eight 8-bit inspired cubes that each pays tribute to the outstanding women who worked at the Atari gaming company in the 70s and 80s. Additionally, we included the Atari logo on the front of the suit, which would light up and change colors.
We chose the gender-neutral coveralls as our base outfit because it is meant to be a “one-size-fits-all”, holding various body shapes to fit. We did not want to stereotype women to wear a certain form of outfit or have the outfit objectify the wearer’s body. Instead, we want to focus on the legacy and important historical archives of women’s contribution to gaming.
I researched and proposed with the materials for the electronic parts. Below are what we included in our outfit:
Rods and corner joints
5mm Super Bright LED
Coin Battery Pack
24 Adafruit Smart NeoPixels
24 Super Bright White 5mm LEDs
Flexible stranded copper wires
3V coin battery pack
Portable charger + USB connectors
Plastic rods for cubes
3D printed corner joints
With my background in physical computing, I focused on designing the Atari NeoPixel Logo.
When connecting the NeoPixels, we played around with conductive threads at first. I sewed one strand to connect power, one to connect the ground, and one to connect the analog input.
Here is a video of testing out the conductive threads. The LEDs were flickering or only fixed on one color when it was supposed to be changing. This was due to the conductive thread's weak and inconsistent connection.
Weak connection when using conductive threads
Here is what we learned about conductive threads:
They become frizzy overtime and split into pieces, touching other threads or unwanted conductive areas, which disrupts connection and causes glitches
Stitching them to fabric requires precision and time, a wrong stitch could cost us to start over
It is almost impossible to solder conduct thread because it would melt, so we would need to find other ways to secure connections
After trying out different materials, we found a better way of using thin, soft, and insulated copper wires to connect the NeoPixels. The wires were easy to use, as we were able to cut and secure them by hand. To further secure connections, we soldered each end of the wire to the NeoPixel. The connection turned out to be strong and reliable, and the wires themselves were easy to manage and adjust.
Wires for the Win!
The code we used for the NeoPixels on the Atari Logo came from different demo codes available on Adafruit. I programmed the alternating light patterns with different colors and duration on the Arduino IDE. The code was pushed onto Adafruit Flora, which requires a 3.3V input to power up the NeoPixels. We used a 2-pack 3V coin batteries at first, but then we switched to using a portable charger because it is longer-lasting, rechargeable, and sustainable.
The cubes were getting tested with the programmed blink sequence in Arduino
Reflection and Next Steps
Looking back, it was a stressful time when we couldn't figure out what went wrong with the connections that caused the NeoPixels to behave abnormally. It was a relief when we found an alternative that would provide secure connections for the individual NeoPixels. It was after researching and prototyping with different materials that we finally successfully implemented our design. E-textile is a new area for me. I learned to embrace the uncertainties and keep trying out different approaches when solving a problem. The more experiments I have with e-textile, the more comfortable I will get when dealing with unexpected situations. I believe I gained more knowledge and confidence in this area from my experiences in debugging and finding alternative solutions.
Right now, the outfit is only a programmed display. We thought it would be more engaging if we can incorporate interactivity in the outfit. Earlier in the project, we were prototyping with an infrared receiver and remote control to change the light displays, but these would require a 5V power source. We scaled back due to limited resources and time constraints. If we had more time, we could have something motion-based or use other sensors to control the colors/patterns exhibiting from the lights.
Showing at Emerald City Comic Con
Exhibit at Living Computers Museum
Fashion Show Model at Hypnotica 2019