Sociable Wearables

I have complained about many “wearables”, beefing that they are poorly designed and unattractive. Here’s one that I hope succeeds: JewelBots.

Jewelbots “are programmable friendship bracelets for teens and pre-teens.” Specifically aimed at girls (teen age boys are a hard sell on “bracelets”), these arduino displays connect via Bluetooth, and the LEDs light up when friends are near or ping you.

This behavior is controlled by a mobile phone app, and, with arduino inside, motivated girls can program it to do whatever they want. In this sense, it is an open platform, and a potential STEM attraction for teens.

(The product is in development, so I only know what I see on line. The kickstarter has quite a bit of information.)

There are a number of things I like about this design.

The baseline function (blink when your friends are near) is a great feature: social connections are made visible in an unobtrusive way. My intuition is that this is a perfect fit for the intended demographic. (We’ll close our eyes to the potential humiliation of being cut out of the network, so your JewelBot no longer receives from your (former) friends.)

The appearance is simple and toylike, appropriate for this use, and conveying a light, gamelike vibe. The prestige is in the connections, not the bling. Less is definitely more in this case.

As Kyle VanHemert put it in, “Where other wearables had sought to reinvent the watch, Jewelbots followed a different template: the friendship bracelet.

I have to be clear that the device itself isn’t especially groundbreaking. Similar blinkie devices are built every day in maker spaces and fab labs. They have done some serious work to shrink down the packaging, though—I know that effort was not at all trivial.

Also, unlike many boneheaded “wearables”, JewelBots are not tethered to their mobile phone. Yay! They form their own local mesh network using Bluetooth. Kudos for finally implementing something that has been bugging me for years.

It seems to me that the app is the crux of the product, where it will succeed or fail. The description in the kickstarter pages suggests that they have done a lot of careful work to make it easy to do what needs to be done (set up the net) and then get out of the way. The app eschews temptations to bloat, such as trying to use contact lists or other services. This reduces my concerns about privacy and security as well.

It’s kind of cool that this product sort of “tricks” girls into acquiring their own personal arduino. Apparently, the device can be plugged into a computer and programmed to do anything that an arduino can do. I don’t know how popular this feature will be, but at least some girls will shock us all with what they do. I mean, an arduino is a full blown networked computer, which constitutes a lever and a place to stand.  Shhh.  Don’t let the boys know what the girls have!

If I can make a suggestion, I would encourage the company to open up the device so that we can interface our own, DIY versions. It would be cool to have a kit to build your own, and it would be cool to have a software API so you could create something and interface it to the JewelBot network. I would definitely support some workshops to do this at our local fab lab.


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