2011 — “A jacket that makes music when you move; who wouldn’t want to wear THAT!?” An idea that was born at a Kid Koala concert.
MACHINA Founders: A fashion designer, a marketer/trend hunter and an engineer. Our next thought was, how do we do it?
At the very beginning, we where a total of 14 people in MACHINA. We where a group of designers, engineers and developers. We had just raised $50K as a seed investment round from Wayra (an accelerator program from Telefonica Movistar), we felt like millionaires. Our ideas and working methodology was all over the place. The only common factors were our love for design, technology & music.
MJ v1.0 The first jacket that allows the user to create music through motion and touch sensors with a mobile app. Imagine being able to create music by using your body as an interface. Imagine being able to extend that jacket to make it work not only with music, but with whichever devices you have. This was our motto.
The MIDI Jacket allowed to control different aspects of a performance, live act, even music or visual production as any MIDI controller does. The only difference is that this interface is wearable and is mounted on a jacket. We had also designed a set of applications for smarthphones and tablets, Ipad / ipod touch / android. The jacket managed to allow musicians to use a controller that is modular, portable, and with kinetic interaction.
For our first MIDI Controller Jacket prototype we worked closely with Dj’s, Mexican rapper Tino el Pingüino, and b-boy dancers like Funky Maya — to receive their feedback on the jacket, the technology and software itself.
The Jacket — Blue lightweight one layer Gore-Tex fabric bomber jacket with orange flourescent linning with multiple layers to embedded the cables and electronics. Why did we use Gore-Tex? Gore-Tex is considered a Techno-textile. Back in the days it was quite revolutionary and difficult to acquire. For us it was very important to not only revolutionize on the technology part of the garment but also in the kind of fabrics we chose. Techno textiles are fabrics that incorporate new technologies and new functionality into a traditional textile material. Their roots began in industrial and military applications. Techno textiles today are employed in many different applications, ranging across biomedical devices, aircraft, automobiles, electronics, and more, including clothing and home furnishing. Embedding electronic components required water proof fabrics.
The pattern design was carefully crafted many times with a tailor to develop a comfortable effect for the user even though it had cables embedded all through out the jacket. This is why this jacket’s version has raglan sleeves.
The Technology — Back in 2011 we experimented a lot with open hardware platforms such as Arduino, LilyPad and Flora to make rapid prototyping and really because they where the only devices available to experiment with. At the same time, there was no information regarding wearable technology for the masses and no other people making this as something real. There where several wearable productos out there but they where all focused on working prototypes that where only used as art installations, to dress celebrites for once in a life time ocassions and museums.
On the jacket we mounted a series of soft sensors, three axis accelerometers, a flexible sensor and a 5-button navigation pad, connected to a lilypad card a 3v battery and a bluetooth transmitter.
The lilypad was preloaded with a frame code for serial data transmission. This used to send the values of the sensors as bytes, in such a way that they can be received by a computer or a mobile device preloaded with any of our applications.
All of our work was developed with an open-hardware vision, we are interested in sharing the knowledge that is being generated from this exploration and we needed help from other tinkerers, developers and designers to expand the possibilities of our interface. Up to this day, this remains as part of our philosophy to capture feedback and insights from users and other stakeholders through the open hardware/software philosophy. This allows us to iterate quickly in a relative inexpensive way making it the perfect solution to validate an idea progressively.
2012 — São Paulo, Brazil. The city that changed our lives forever.
It was spring of 2012, we where invited to give our first live demo and conference at Campus Party Brazil, an annual week-long, 24-hour-a-day technology festival. Thousands of hackers, developers, gamers and geeks equipped with laptops camp out in tents on-site for the conference and hackathon. Antonio, Machina Co-Founder & Creative Director was alone in this journey.
After his presentation, Antonio was approached by a brasilian investor to give once again a private demo of MACHINA’s MIDI Controller Jacket. “This is such an innovative idea, I want someone else to see it.” Five days later, we flew to New York City to meet a millionaire investor who’s investments where mainly focused on fashion and retail.
After making the perfect sales pitch (at least that’s what we thought) we where redirected by this investor to meet a very close friend of his. He gave us the address, didn’t say who it was. Once we arrived to the address, which was located on famous Fifth Avenue, we arrived to what it turned out to be LVMH Moët Hennessy’s headquarters. To our surprise, our meeting was scheduled with LVMH’s Moët Hennessy’s Chairman (back then) responsible for North America: Renaud Dutreil.
“Imagine being able to create music by using your body as an interface. Imagine being able to extend that jacket to make it work not only with music, but with whichever devices you have: A Kinect, an iPod, Nike Plus. We believe that the way we interact with our clothing is changing; clothing should not only be a way of covering your body while helping you get laid, our relationship with clothing should be much more than that: clothing should be an extension of our body, and we’re using wearable technology to do that.” — Machina’s Founders state of mind back in 2012 and what we actually told LVMH’s Chariman.
The first thought that came to mind was visualizing Machina doing a collaboration with LVMH of the bat. The thought alone was worse than a teenagers wet dream. It was an almost two hour meeting full of stammering and an awkward demo of our MIDI Controller Jacket making random sounds when we tried it.
After all, this was his feedback:
- “A jacket that makes music when you move, won’t make it to mainstream markets”
- “You will have to dive into materials and manufacturing to overcome other brands in the market that are starting out like you as well”
- “You have the most beautiful packaging and brand identity I have seen in many years”.
- “Fashion Tech will take YEARS before it hits mainstream. You need to be prepared to be part of the fashion world because it is not easy, I don’t think you know what you are getting into, but if you persevere, I have no doubt you can one day become a success”.
Today Dutreil has gone into consulting but this is a guy who is a Trustee of Museum of Arts and Design, New York City; Member of the Board of New School and of Parsons School of Design. His feedback was not to be taken lightly and it has been something that besides having us inspired; it has followed us to how we deliver our products today.
Our problem with this design overall:
- Gore-Tex although being a techno-textile, wasn’t the best fabric selection. We worked with industrial grade materials which are commonly used for other purposes (boat sails, camping tents),they are completely waterproof and hard to work with. They are not regular clothing materials. Everybody that tested our initial prototype complained of the extreme heat and comfort provided by the jacket. Loved the design, but always ended it up soaking wet in sweat. Not functional for stage performance or long periods of use.
- Having a USB cable from computer to jacket was NOT functional neither modular or aesthetic.
- Using Arduino and LilyPad components wasn’t going to separate us from other designers and engineers trying to build “wearables”. We are a brand and needed to position as such. For that, we decided that if we wanted to be known, we would need to build our own technology from scratch.
2013 — Successfully fundraised $77,002 USD on Kickstarter.
The Jacket — One of our main intentions for this MIDI Jacket version was to make all cables “invisible” to the wearers eye. Some of the jackets specs: we added a hoodie for the looks of it, frontal and back had double fabric layers. One being water proof and another with small wholes to absorb the users sweat and make it breathable.
During this jacket’s experimentation we realized that musicians used the accelerometer more than the pad located on the pockets.
The Technology — Our first technology was programmed to be a MIDI controller, but could be adapted to any purpose. (This has always been our mission as a company) We’ve included several sensors so the users can reprogram them.
- Four flexible sensors which can detect your finger’s position
- One accelerometer which can detect your arm’s acceleration
- A joystick
- 4 push buttons
All of these sensors and buttons can be configured by the user, but they come with presets and initial configurations. The sensors are invisible except for placeholders.
This is to make sure that the jacket can be used as a regular jacket. We want integration to be complete, and that’s why we’re working so hard in making sure that, while the sensors are there, they do not affect the look and feel of the jacket. The jacket looks like a regular jacket, and it can be worn under any condition.
We developed this technology from the ground up. The accelerometers make using the jacket a different type of interface for composing music, adding kinetic capabilities. The jacket became a platform. All of our code was available freely, with libraries that extended the functionality of the jacket straightforward.
We developed a VST plugin so that the jacket can be connected to Ableton live wirelessly. We launched a mobile application for iOS that allowed users to interact with the jacket in a simple way.
- Sound Capturing/Usage
- By recording in the cell phone/Tablet
- Pressing a key and recording a sound
- Configurable pad to match the sensores
- Key Mapping
- Define which keys go with which sounds
- Define which keys add an effect
- Define if the keys are used as buttons, sensors, if they’re pressure sensitive, etc.
- Define the threshold to trigger actions.
Our problem with this design overall:
- We integrated some sliders on both pockets, replicating a “piano like” function. When working with users, it turned out to be a very confusing function. It was visually unpleasant because it made it look like the wearer was rubbing it’s own body instead of making music.
- Sending left-hand cables to the pad located in the lower right front had to go through many parts of the jacket pattern. What made it very complicated. There was excess cable due to user movements because user movements were abrupt. If there was not enough cable, they ended up breaking the cable. We were forced to rethink the entire product.
- Our technology back then was a big square measuring 20 x 12 cm this turned out to be uncomfortable and created more weight on one side of the jacket.
- The app we developed was designed to control pocket sliders
- Complex and influncial; this made us rethink the design of the app since the sliders in the jacket ceased to exist
- The wireless communication protocol between the jacket with the computer or the ipad was wifi. This made communication very complex due to the lack of development and the high cost of the Wi-Fi module.
The Jacket — From using several smart techno textiles, we now used improved breathable fabrics on the jackets laterals, waterproof coated.
The jacket’s sleeve was key to this MIDI’s Jacket version. We worked on more than 15 sleeve variations. The sleeve was given a curvature pattern for greater mobility by splitting it in half. A sleeve is usually made out of one piece or two and this was made out of a total of eight pieces — which made it very ergonomic to be in motion including an extra four inches in lengh.
This version included a thumb whole which was key to reach and control the sensors located in the hand. If a tall person was to use our jacket, they would be able to control the jacket easily with this jacket design.
The Technology — KER
KER is a dream all-in-one microcontroller that centralizes a range of functionalities commonly used by wearable technology devices. As such, it offers an HDMI connection to an ITC unit to which you can solder any kind of devices supported by the Arduino platform. Plug any I2C sleeves, pants, props, or wind sensors, LED bars, switches, panels -you name it- and start coding right away.
This board handled communication between your device and the rest of the world by using either an USB cable with serial or MIDI communications (MIDI MocoLUFA based MIDI firmware included in the software downloads), or with the integrated WiFi capabilities, that can run either in infrastructure or ad-hoc mode, offering a wide range of possibilities like serving your performance directly to internet users, so they can use it to keep creating, wherever they are.
Whenever used with a set of ITC and Nervs, you get a complete solution that can be integrated into a hoodie, or a jacket (sounds familiar?), and take it to your exercise routine. Measure your punches, or your slugger swing. If you are a geek, like some of us, go wild using it to remote control vehicles and even robots wirelessly!
The Software — More than generating music, this app’s version was designed to assign what we wanted each sensor to do. We would map notes, sliders or knobs.
Our MIDI Jacket app would let users assign MIDI output channels and save up to four different configurations. In the end the user had three notes per hand and three sliders / knobs per hand, at the same time having one note on the chest. On the chest a note.
This hasn’t stopped us in collaborating with other companies and musicians from different disciplines. It is a product that has evolved in every aspect from what it first started.
Our latest MIDI Controller Jacket collaboration was with MTV and Koka Nikoladze; sound artist based in Oslo. In the era of software and hardware revolution, Koka makes a standout as a modern musician, maker and hacker.
By 2015, it was already five years of continuous research, prototyping and development with high complexity in every part of the product having no luck in scalability. A product that we thought that everybody would love turned out to be completely the opposite. We felt lost in a very much need to reebot.
We began making internal and open to public hackathons. The objective was simple, we wanted to really understand why did we fail, what could we change to make things better and how could we expand a five year investment.
Back in 2015, VR short for Virtual Reality was having a crucial and significant hype thanks to Oculus Rift which was acquired for $2billion USD by Facebook.
After sleepless and cold-less nights with cheese filled croissants combined with candy and terrible cold coffee we knew that to continue in following our vision of functional, modular garments, we needed to redesign our technology and intergration process. That’s when we killed KER,The MIDI Controller Jacket and designed OBE (Out of Body Experience).