It’s T-shirt time!

Our clothes already say a lot about us, but thanks to the latest breakthroughs in wearable technology, they’re about to say a whole lot more. For decades, a vast majority of us have turned to fashion to express ourselves, particularly with those good ol’ graphic t-shirts. However, these t-shirts can only go so far. Thanks to the introduction of Arduino and Adafruit, both which offer wearable electronic platforms powered by versatile Atmel microcontrollers (MCUs), we’ve seen a transition from off-the-rack apparel to DIY wearable masterpieces that truly showcase one’s individuality.

“Building electronics with your hands is certainly a fun brain exercise, but adding crafting into the mix really stretches your creativity,” Becky Stern, Adafruit’s Director of Wearable Electronics, recently told ReadWrite. Members of the soft electronics community have been able to bring their ideas to life by adapting various Atmel-powered platforms specifically for wearables, including the Arduino Lilypad (ATmega328V) and Adafruit’s FLORA (ATmega32u4).

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Today, we’re taking a look at some of the most innovative, embedded t-shirts that added a Maker twist to the everyday garment. Let’s just say… they’re sew awesome!

A shirt that counts your emails…

A Maker by the name of Chris Ball designed a custom-printed shirt that was capable of displaying the number of unread e-mails in your inbox using an Arduino Lilypad MCU (ATmega328V), a couple of LEDs, conductive thread and a Bluetooth dongle which communicated with a nearby Android phone.

A shirt that plays Tetris…

To celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary, Maker Mark Kerger created a Tetris-playing shirt by embedding an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), four AA batteries and 128 LEDs into the garment. Pretty much the only thing this nifty wearable game can’t do is play the Tetris soundtrack.

A shirt that plays Pong…

Speaking of vintage video games, a young Maker by the name of Spencer recently posted an Instructable detailing the creation of a flexible 14 x 15 pixel, Pong-playing t-shirt. The screen consisted of RGB LED strips, while an Arduino Mega (ATmega1280) served as the brains of the game.

A shirt that plays music…

A Maker going by the name “BBrodsky” gave a much more literal meaning to the term ‘walkman.’ The Maker developed an MP3-equipped workout shirt powered by an Arduino LilyPad (MP3) (ATmega328P) and an accelerometer to detect whether or not the wearer is moving, and if so, it would play his or her music. According to its creator, the goal of the system was to promote an active lifestyle for wearers.

A shirt that visualizes sound…

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Created by the folks at New York-based design lab CRATED, the Sync shirt is described by its Makers as “an audio responsive VJ Shirt” that visually connects its wearer to the background music in a club. This visual connection is derived from an LED-embedded patch that is inserted into the front of the shirt, which pulses at varying degrees of intensity depending upon what music is playing. Inspired by the emergence of visual DJs that use light and sound in their performances at nightclubs throughout New York City, London and Europe, this eclectic shirt enables partygoers to become active participants in the light shows instead of just passive watchers.

A shirt that folds itself…

In addition to their aforementioned Sync shirt, Makers Maddy Maxey and Mari Kussman of CRATED have also experimented with what they referred to as “textile manipulation.” According to the duo, the Zygomatic is “a tessellating shirt controlled by a computer interface.” Both Maxey and Kussman believe this is just a small segue to modular clothing systems and a different kind of manufacturing.

A shirt that can change the TV channel…

A few years ago, designer Rebecca Albrand introduced an innovative solution for those who always seemed to misplace the TV remote. Utilizing the body as a platform for control and functionality, the t-shirt can control any television set that is able to connect to a universal remote. Using a conductive thread that’s sewn through the fabric itself, this article of clothing uses soft switches to create a circuit board of sorts.

A shirt that can protect your personal space… 

While at a hackathon back in 2011, a DIYer by the name of “Rainycat” designed a temperature sensing t-shirt utilizing an Arduino Lilypad (ATmega328V). The innovative shirt features two cat heads — one green (the color of a cool, calm collected cat), the other red (a hot, angry cat). The LED eyes light up based on temperatures of over and under 27 degrees Celsius. For instance, if the wearer encountered someone speaking loudly to them within close proximity, the heat from their breath would push the sensor Celsius average over this point. Subsequently, the LEDs would turn off the cool, calm green cat head and switch on the red. As the Maker put its, this would be a signal to whomever is causing the angry red cat’s LEDs eyes to light up, to back off “You’re in mah face!”

A shirt that simulates being tackled…

Ever wanted to know what it feels like to be tackled by an NFL linebacker? The Alert Shirt will allow you to just that, all from the comfort of your couch. Connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth, the shirt is embedded with tiny motors replicate just how a football player feels at key moments during a game. Think haptic feedback on a larger scale, and against your body rather than the tip of your finger. As our friends at Adafruit explained, though there have been Makers creating Atmel-powered scarves and t-shirts that can create a vibration sensation for wearers, “this technology is more sophisticated because it is using a lot more data.”

A shirt that sparkles and glows…

The ATmega168-powered Twirkle Disc Shirt reacts to body movements creating unique light and glow effects. As one of the first commercially available, ready-to-wear LED shirts on the market, Adafruit’s Becky Stern and Ladyada had to take a look inside the motion-activated garment.

A shirt that you can program…

London-based interactive clothing company CuteCircuit had teamed up with Scotch whiskey distillers Ballantine’s to create tshirtOS, the world’s first wearable, sharable and programmable t-shirt. As a futuristic approach to the original canvas of personal expression, the digital T-shirt can be personalized and controlled using an iPhone app via wireless connection. Thanks to its built-in camera, microphone, accelerometer and speakers, wearers have the ability to display tweets, share music, take photos and share photos all from their shirt.

A shirt that can show you affection…

Also designed by the co-Founders of CuteCircuit, Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz, the Hug Shirt is exactly what it sounds like — a shirt that lets people send long distance hugs! The garment is embedded with a number of sensors that feel the strength of the touch, the skin warmth and the heartbeat rate of the sender, while actuators recreate the sensation of touch, warmth and emotion of the hug to the shirt of the distant loved one. As its website explains, the Hug Shirt is a Bluetooth accessory for Java-enabled mobile phones. Hug shirts don’t have any assigned phone number; instead, the data goes directly from the sensors to your mobile phone which then delivers the hug data to your friend’s phone, all seamlessly transmitted via Bluetooth to his or her shirt! “Sending hugs is as easy as sending an SMS and you will be able to send hugs while you are on the move.”

A shirt that rocks out…

Thanks to the folks over at ThinkGeek, simply tap the drums on this interactive shirt with your finger and listen to the tunes play through its embedded speaker. With seven different drum sounds, you’re ready for a personal drum solo on your chest. According to its site, “Once your loop is created, layer additional beats on top to build up a complex rhythm. You can make loops up to 3 minutes long and you’ve got unlimited tracks to play with.”

A shirt that displays messages…

A Maker mom and son recently created an LED matrix shirt that could scroll messages and display simple graphics. Using an Arduino Lilypad (ATmega328) as a controller, a rechargeable LiPo battery, 50 LilyPad LEDs, an FTDI breakout board, a mini USB connector and some conductive thread, the duo completed their mutli-purpose shirt that not only looks good, but can act as a message board and general purpose display. Adding to the fun, the shirt can play four different games controlled by a small joystick!

A shirt hoodie that lets you send discrete messages…

Using an Atmel-based Arduino and an Arduino GSM shield, a pair of New York University students designed what they call the “Smart Hoodie,” a hooded sweatshirt that can respond to various gestures — touching the hood, touching a sleeve and rolling up a sleeve, each of which send a different text message to a pre-programmed contact.

And… now only a few weeks away, World Maker Faire is certainly a place to express yourself with clothing no exception. Here’s just some of our favorite t-shirts from around the grounds last year.

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