Katia Canépa Vega is taking wearable technology to its next logical destination: your skin, and the muscles underneath.
Vega, a self-described "beauty tech designer," has already created wearable computers hidden as eyeliner, fake eyelashes, fake nails, and the type of special FX makeup used in films. But her thinking changed, when, last year, Felipe Estevez, a former martial artist who lost use of his arms and legs after an accident, approached Vega after one of her presentations with a new idea. Estevez asked Vega if she might design wearable "beauty tech" for quadriplegics.
Since, Vega has been working with Estevez on "Winkymote," an infrared remote control placed near the eye to help quadriplegics control the electronics around them. The eye sensor communicates when an eyelid blinks to Clio, an Arduino-based microcontroller placed around the neck, which can then communicate with light switches, televisions, and other devices. Estevez, who is pursuing a masters degree, can also use Winkymote to control slides for powerpoint presentations.
"I will not put fake eyelashes on a guy, so that's why I'm creating FX makeup for him," Vega explained. "I can hide electronics on your face that will sense your muscles, your wink, your eyebrows, and your smile."
Vega has also developed something she calls Kinisi, a sensor network of LED lights a person can control just using the muscles on his or her face. She worked with professional makeup artists and director Juan Carlos Yanaura in her native Peru to demonstrate how the skin interface might work. Vega says she's also working on an device for conductive hair.
Vega hasn't made any formal plans to take Winkymote to the mass market, as she's still wrapping up her PhD in informatics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. Her biggest challenges—in addition to the usual privacy and energy concerns posed by wearable tech—will be finding a way to make the technology both empowering and comfortable, she says.