Q&A with Kitty Yeung: When physics, art and technology collide

Kitty Yeung has a burning desire to create, design, and solve challenges within the wearables industry. She is a physicist, artist, maker, fashion designer and musician, and she works as a creative technologist and manager at the Garage, Microsoft. She is based in Silicon Valley and she has recently joined the Arm Innovator Program.

Kitty’s early career was focused on hardcore scientific research and academic training while pursuing artistic endeavours through painting, music and graphic novel creations. It has been her dream since childhood to work in the three intellectual fields: science, music and art. After finishing her PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University, Kitty found the perfect way to integrate art and design with science and technology via tech-fashion designs. Her recent work applies cutting-edge Arm technologies to garment designs. She also focuses on improving manufacturing processes with technology.

Read our Q&A between Arm and Kitty about her endeavors in fashion and how she believes technology can transform the future of the industry.

What excites you in the wearable space?

The possibility to start another revolution in the garment industry. For hundreds of years, humans have been producing clothing, but with the development of technology, materials, designs and manufacturing processes, there has been some significant changes and improvements. Often with change comes some problems, and in the last few years the industry has had a negative impact on society; the pollution from factories is severe, and vast amounts of waste are generated as production is driven by profits and volumes instead of creativity and need.

However, on the bright side, technology has advanced to the point that clothes could be designed to be more functional while being aesthetically pleasing, and manufacturing processes could also benefit from more efficient and democratized methods. A lot of the current challenges in the garment industry can now be solved. This is what excites me the most. I’m excited to encourage the use of state-of-the-art technologies in the design and manufacturing of clothes.        

How did you get involved with wearable technology?

My background is in physics; I decided to do science when I was very young, and I have been working in research labs, enjoying designing and experimenting with cutting-edge technologies. At the same time, I always love doing art and I appreciate its power to influence culture. I’ve been painting and creating my graphic novel, designing outfits for the characters and I later learnt how to sew to make the outfits into a reality. At the same time, thanks to the development of inexpensive and readily available hardware, I discovered how to use microcontrollers and small single-board computers for robotics projects. I realised the endless possibilities to apply engineering skills in fashion design – there is no reason why functional modules cannot be embedded into textiles or clothing! Now I can finally combine my two passions, science and art.

What project are you working on and how did you develop it?

I just finished a new project using the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, which is based on an Arm Cortex-M0 processor, and fabrics from Made of Mars. The materials are made of volcanic basalt, which is the most commonly found rock on Mars. If humans one day move to Mars, most likely they’ll need to use this abundant material to make goods and build infrastructure. Therefore, designing using this material on earth has significance in scientific exploration. But why and when do we need to move to Mars? Is it because the Earth is no longer habitable? As a concept, I used the temperature sensor on the Circuit Playground Express and an optical dust sensor to alert people about global warming and air pollution. The circuit makes sounds and shows LED colours according to temperature and air dust density.

Technical details and construction processes are on Hackster.io.

Adafruit Circuit Playground
Adafruit Circuit Playground Express

What is innovative about your project(s)?

I use the latest technologies and construct creative items that are technologically possible but do not yet exist. In the realms of wearables and consumer electronics, tech companies have limited themselves to developing a few products that do the same thing and look very similar, such as watches, glasses or shoes (mostly hard materials are easier). But as a scientist and artist, thinking inside constraints is not exciting nor challenging. My projects demonstrate unconventional usage of electronics and functionalities including:

  • Training a pattern matching engine to memorize gestures and display constellations
  • Controlling dress colors with brain signals
  • Synchronizing sunglasses via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for communication (while most of Bluetooth devices are some sort of assistants for the phones or PCs)
  • Embroidering laser optical fibres into fabric
  • Designing and embedding solar panel and 3D printing into outfits
  • And more!

At the same time, as a designer and engineer, I’m working on methods to upgrade manufacturing and design infrastructure to help more creative people achieve their vision via open-source.        

What Arm technologies are enabling your success?

Adafruit Circuit Playground Express used in the Made of Mars project is powered by the Cortex-M0 processor. I’m also working on the MXChip IoT Dev Board (STM32F412) based on the Cortex-M4 processor with Floating Point Unit

I use Arm technology because it offers many opportunities for wearables and creative designs - everything from IoT connectivity and edge or cloud computing - to more simple controls and technologies. The Arm ecosystem is more complete, there is a community of people and companies that collaborate, including a great open-source group.