NYC Maker Faire 2016: The best wearable, VR and smart home tech

Teen inventors, kid-oriented VR tools and Kickstarters highlight the tech festival
Best wearable tech at NYC Maker Faire

The New York Hall of Science played host to another year of Maker Faire, a science and technology showcase that allows amateur inventors to bring their projects into the public eye. This past weekend, tech giants like Google and GE shared the spotlight with high schoolers' science fair display boards and amateurs with DIY creations.

Piggybacking on the VR and wearable boom of the last few years, these creators are making promising projects, and it's exciting to see what they've come up with.

We trolled the faire looking for the most exciting VR, wearable and smart home projects, and we weren't disappointed with what we found.

Dress to Impress

For Grace Buckwalter's tenth grade science fair project, she decided to tackle something close to home: her mother's brain. After watching her mom suffer from migraines most of her life, Grace thought of using wearable tech to try and develop an early warning system for neurological conditions like headaches or epilepsy, so sufferers can take preventative medication before an episode instead of afterwards.

Grace's first prototype, seen above, focuses on displaying different types and levels of thoughts as distinct colors on her dress. Nervousness displays as red, for example, while relaxation manifests as green. She allowed different Faire-goers to try on the headset and see their different thoughts and memories manifest on her dress.

Her vision of a finalized early warning system would be less flashy dress and more utilitarian bracelet with a notification system. The science isn't there yet for determining what types of brain waves precede an episode, but Grace is considering going into neuroscience for college, and may just try to rectify that. She recently gave a Ted Talk at Lancaster University about her project.


Seedling's mobile VR experience Maze puts you inside the classic Labyrinth board game as the ball; from a first-person perspective, you try to navigate to the finish by tilting your cardboard while avoiding the traps.

Targeted towards children, Maze has a fluid level layout designed to let kids try out VR game design without advanced programming knowledge. All of the black blocks above are magnetized and removable; kids can redesign their maze, take a snapshot with their phone to reprogram the VR level, and dive back in. Kids can even share mazes with friends or race each other to the end.

I'm hopeful that other VR game devs will put this game design power in the hands of players, and look forward to seeing Seedling's next project currently in early development: an augmented reality game where kids play doctor by treating their teddy bear's injuries.


As a child I imagined myself flying to outer space and meeting aliens, but unlike 10 year old Laura Doyle, I didn't found an augmented-reality startup company to bring those dreams into reality.

Michael and Laura Doyle are the father-daughter tandem behind the International Space Station Interesting Exercise, an app for the HoloLens designed to make working out more enjoyable for astronauts training in simulated gravity in orbit. In the demo at the Faire, I worked out as fast as possible to power a tractor beam and save the aliens floating outside my spaceship; the speed of my stationary bike pedaling, squats and step ups in 90 seconds corresponded to 22 aliens rescued, which was apparently a record.

Laura, whose business card lists her as ISSIE's founder, thought up the game's premise and worked on everything from the aliens' design to music composition, while Michael coded the software. After winning Best Use of Hardware and the People's Choice Award at the Space Apps Hackathon 2016, ISSIE attracted the attention and support of astronaut Cady Coleman and the CASIE laboratory; Michael told me they are hoping to develop the game enough that the astronauts can try it out on the two HoloLenses currently on the ISS.

In the meantime, the team is workshopping new exercises and features like multiplayer and leaderboards. Eventually, Michael hopes kids will have the chance to try and match the scores of astronauts in space. Until ISSIE does leave orbit, however, they're focusing on getting their game out to Earth-based clients such as physical therapy patients.


For Theresa Flour Lamb's Master's thesis, she designed an arm wearable that translates the body movements from knitting or crocheting into music. Wearing headphones connected to the circuit board on Lamb's wrist, I listened as she knitted to the rhythmic, soothing sounds of her work.

Lamb's system uses a leather harness to hold her various pieces of hardware in place: an accelerometer and gyro on her hand to measure movement, a Teensy 3.2 microprocessor running Arduino on the forearm to process the data, an Adaptor Board on the upper arm to translate data into embedded audio, and silicon stranded wire to connect the various pieces together.

When I asked about her inspiration for this project, Lamb mentioned how people tend to assume technological developments will make physical art creation obsolete compared to graphic design and mechanical creation —except that people still knit despite the existence of sewing machines. Lamb's project stemmed from the idea that physical art and technology can grow hand in hand and augment one another, rather than one replacing the other.

Atta-matic: mind the body

Nitcha Tothong also focused on wearable technology that encourages bodily awareness while interacting with technology for her Master's thesis.

Her Faire showcase, titled the Atta-matic, contained three separate wearables that sync with your desktop and mobile devices. The Keybod, which Wareable previously covered, is a computer keyboard kimono that uses an accelerometer and gyroscope to encourage better posture, and allows you to type directly on your body. Click-kick, a motion tracker attached to your shoe, allows you to control your mouse cursor with your foot while working at a standing desk. Teck-neck, a collar worn around your neck, sends a chiding message to your phone if it detects prolonged bad neck posture.

The Atta-matic wardrobe stemmed from Nitcha's desire to "make our unconscious interactions more conscious," and to prevent bad habits we've developed due to technology. I personally know I could use a reminder to improve my posture over my cell phone, and enjoy the idea of using motion tracking to make computer use a more interactive experience.


At the Maker Faire on Saturday, GE announced the winners of the Lights for Light challenge, which challenged amateur designers to come up with plans for smart home devices that use light technology. Perhaps the most promising was S.L.E.E.P., a device that uses invisible light waves to measure a baby's O2 levels and heart rate in its crib and projects audio warnings to prevent SIDS.

Joseph Hollmann, a Barcelona-based researcher, submitted his concept while expecting his first child. His device uses a pulse oximeter that uses non-invasive, near-infrared light that measures heart rate and oxygen levels, a thermopile that checks if the infant's temperature rests between 97 degrees and 100 degrees and sensor clusters that track the baby's presence and movement in the crib.

Hollmann gave GE control of his design after submitting it into the contest, so the company will eventually be the one bringing this into the market and implementing his features. But he imagines the final product will have extremely loud warning signals in the event of a problem, letting parents know to drop everything and help their infant as soon as possible. As of now, he doesn't believe the baby monitors currently on the market do enough to keep babies safe.

Gravity Sketch

Starting as a 3D-sketching tool for iOS, Gravity Sketch recently launched its Kickstarter for a VR-native app for the HTC Vive, as well as a desktop version. At the Maker Faire's Kickstarter Fab Future booth, I was able to try out the VR app, using the Vive controllers to sketch my terrible artistic visions in 3D.

Perhaps the closest and most famous equivalent is Tilt Brush, the Google-owned Vive app that also enables 3D drawing. Gravity Sketch has a unique feature that allows you to 3D print your creations — something Tilt Brush can't do as of yet — which its creators obviously hope will help it outshine the competition, especially for more professional customers like game designers or animators.

The Kickstarter has a long way to go to reach its goal, so definitely check it out if you're interested in some professional VR design tools.


Project Aether places motion capture technology to create a 3D-avatar of a dancer in real time as he or she performs, creating a mirrored backdrop to the performance. As the dancer above performed, I was able to tap colored 3D objects that changed the color of her avatar; one of the devs, Lajune Macmillan, told me the colors corresponded to the four elements — fire, water, air and earth — and the avatar's movement changed based on each element's properties. The performance was simply mesmerizing.

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Wearable technology could lead to a renaissance when it comes to performative art. The world may not be ready for ballet augmented by wearable tech, of course, but the potential to track a performer's movements and connect it to stage design could have an impact on performances from break dancing to theater.

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