Tim Scaffidi and I worked together for a semester on a series of projects creating electronic devices that respond to the capacitance of the human beings and consumer electronics in ordinary space. During the course of development, we experimented with sensor design, reactive systems, and home circuit board etching.
The projects began as a wearable galvanic skin response necklace. Using Arduino boards and conductive fabric, we created a pair of devices that were effective, but clunky. A thorough write-up of the project can be found here.
One of the discoveries we made during this process was that the necklaces lit up even if we didn’t wear them, or the sensor pads had no contact with our skin. Clearly, they were not just reacting to the conductivity change in our skin, but also the static electricity associated with our bodies — our own natural capacitance. As a result, we decided that the next stage should be to create stand-alone capacitance sensors.
The result — which was built without the Arduino board — were tiny sensors that could be placed anywhere. We began referring to them as “bugs,” because the exposed transistors made them resemble insects, and their antennae made it seem that they had long tails.
While we thought the creatures were really beautiful, and in some ways an exciting personal object, our final goal was focused on bringing them more fully into a space. There were a number of new design considerations that we had to take into account for the final version. In order to stabilize the somewhat fragile bugs to allow us to suspend them in space, I did a little research into circuit board etching.
I discovered that it was inexpensive and fairly easy to etch your own circuit boards at home, and learning the skills as well as the mastery of the materials were very appealing to us. A detailed writeup of how we did it can be found here. You can also watch us etch our hearts out, as well as install the final product (below).