Meet the Labbers: Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao

MIT Media Lab/Margaret Evans

In our ongoing audio series, Meet the Labbers, we hear people from all roles across the Media Lab talk about what they do and why they do it.

Today, meet Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao.

"I am Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao. I’m a PhD student in the Living Mobile group. I work on…I would call them…aesthetically and culturally designed on-skin interfaces. The first one was called NailO. It’s a nail art sticker but it also functions as a trackpad on your fingertips. So, you can pair with your phone to control your mobile devices, et cetera. Then the next one was DuoSkin, an on-skin interface that also happens to be a tattoo.

I’ve also done a couple other explorations, such as ChromoSkin color-changing eye shadow interactive makeup, and Kino—kinetic jewelry pieces that roll freely on fabric and they can change your outfit throughout the day. So, I’m trying to call this research practice that I do ‘hybrid body craft,’ grounded in existing practices that we already have—of decorating, ornamenting our bodies. But I incorporate technology elegantly into these existing practices to extend their purposes…beyond decoration and into interaction.

I wanted to create something that would embody this intimacy with my family, with my homeland that I’d left.

I was born and raised in Taiwan. We have a very vibrant street fashion culture there. You can decorate your body, change how you look. So, I wanted to create wearables that would kind of reflect this very vibrant sense of self-expression. And, I grew up with my grandmother. She’s, like, the best maker I know. I grew up watching her make a lot of clothes. And, even though she doesn’t even have a smartphone, she’s very intuitive. For example, in the robotic jewelry project, we would have to make a lot of garments with different fabrics to test which ones worked better. I would share a lot of these photos with my grandmother. And she would be, like, ‘What? You’re off at MIT learning how to sew?! I can do that better. Come back, and I’ll teach you.’ (laughs) Which is very hilarious.

I think what people like to do is they like to put you in buckets, right, they like to be able to put a clear label on things, right. I actually have a very technical background in computer science. It was very hardcore and everything, but I wanted to create something that would, you know, embody a sense of this intimacy that was missing with my family, with my homeland that I’d left; just look at wearables differently, from a different perspective…yeah. So, I feel very fortunate to be here because I would not get away with this type of work anywhere else. (laughs) Yeah.” 

Music: “Retro Soundtrack” by Dreamer


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