Hair with a mind of its own isn’t a new idea — Medusa from Greek Mythology had living snakes as her head covering, and Mortal Kombat’s Sindel is able to use her hair as a weapon — but HäirIÖ is perhaps the first hair product that accomplishes this in real life.
The device — developed by Christine Dierk, Sarah Sterman, Molly Nicholas, and Eric Paulos in the Hybrid Ecologies Lab at UC Berkeley — is a heavily modified hair extension, embedded with nitinol wire, a shape memory alloy. While it maintains a certain shape when cool, it assumes a second shape when heated, meaning that the hair braid can physically modify its form depending on the situation. Additionally, a thermochromic pigment is used to allow the braid to change colors when heated.
The color/shape change is controlled via an Arduino Nano, with an Adafruit Bluefruit module that enables it to respond to signals such as phone messages. It could also be employed as a subtle “do not disturb” signal, letting others know by your curled hair braid that you’re busy with another task. Besides Bluetooth, HäirIÖ can recognize touch through capacitive sensing, letting wearers reply to “hair signals” by interacting with it directly.
Human hair is a cultural material, with a rich history displaying individuality, cultural expression and group identity. It is malleable in length, color and style, highly visible, and embedded in a range of personal and group interactions. As wearable technologies move ever closer to the body, and embodied interactions become more common and desirable, hair presents a unique and little-explored site for novel interactions.
Be sure to check it out in the videos seen here, including a performance at the end complemented by an extreme hair arrangement!