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IFAI’s first Hackathon yields novel e-textiles products

Features | October 9, 2017 | By:

Hackathon teams had to work quickly to conceptualize, design and build a  new e-textiles product in just two days. This illustrates the beginning stages of the winning team’s work.

IFAI launched its first “Hackathon” at Expo 2017, challenging registrants to create a new, e-textiles product in just two days—which was actually just twelve hours of work time, as one participant pointed out.

Teams of innovators conceptualized and built a functioning prototype for their product using only those materials and tools available to them in the E-Textiles Workshop area of the show floor. Sponsoring exhibitors, however, had provided cutting edge materials, components and tools, and were open and willing to support the teams with their expertise.

“The vendors were very helpful, participant Joshua Gyllinsky, data scientist and researcher at the University of Rhode Island, said. “We used virtually all the suppliers. At one point, we had five or six vendors helping us.”

Gyllinsky and team members Tracy Weisman, a designer with KNITit, and Aisha Hakam, a high school student who runs Woodland Textiles LLC with her mother, were awarded first place for a toy for nonverbal children with autism designed to create an interactive, bonding experience with their parents.

The toy is a fabric cube, made of squares of different textiles and textures, that has smart components inside of it. The squares provide haptic feedback by warming up when the child touches one square, and then matches up two textures as the same, in a literal “you’re getting warmer” approach.

Although designed for autistic children, the team recognizes many more possibilities for the toy, which could be programmed with lights, sound, or even smell, to customize the sensory experience. “Sensory overload is often audio [for autistic children], so they seek out haptic feedback,” said Gyllinsky.

The fabric cover was built with a zipper so it can be opened up and programmed another way. The team envisions a future model with a accelerometer/gyro setup, so a child could just shake it to reprogram it, without adult participation.

Second place went to Alexis Troxell, a designer also with KNITit; Huiper Gao, an electrical engineer; and Mohammedreza Abtahi, a graduate student in polymer and textile science, for their LED-lit bicycle jacket, designed to make biking at night safer. Besides the LED lights on the back that light up automatically at night, the rider touches the right or left sleeve to activate lights on the jacket’s right or left side of the back to indicate their turn, much like the turn signals on a car.

The participants may have felt like they were “eating a whale,” as one said, but with the vendors’ help, it became a community effort.

“They know how; I don’t,” Hakam said. “Through this, I decided I want to be a part of the textile community for my career.” She plans to apply to North Carolina State University, one of the Hackathon sponsoring exhibitors.

Projects were judged on design, market value, scalability and ability to be manufactured. The contest creators were looking for well-defined, unique ideas or a novel approach that’s not currently on the market.

Prizes were sponsored by IFAI’s Advanced Textile Products division and included $1500 for the first-place team and $500 for second place.


Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source.

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