Friendship bracelets—colorful jewelry that symbolizes a bond between buddies—have been given a high-tech upgrade thanks to computer programmer Sara Chipps and entrepreneur Brooke Moreland. The duo founded Jewelbots, a company in New York City that develops programmable bracelets.
The jewelry is not meant to be merely a fashion statement. The company also aims to teach middle and high school students, primarily girls, how to program the bracelet to do a number of things. For instance, it can be programmed to turn on an alert when another wearer is nearby. The bracelets, which sell for US $59, will begin shipping this month and are available for preorder, according to the company’s Kickstarter page.
“For a long time I’ve wondered: If we could make a product that kids love and give them the means to manipulate it, can we get them more excited about technology?” Chipps writes on her blog. “I have been working on exactly that—trying to brainstorm the perfect sandbox for kids that will incentivize them to learn on their own.”
She is scheduled to speak at the IEEE-USA Future Leaders Forum this month in New Orleans.
Jewelbots launched a Kickstarter campaign in June 2015. It set out to raise $30,000 and exceeded that goal in just 19 hours. Over the course of the year, the campaign raised more than $166,000. Investors kicked in $440,000 more.
The founders developed the current version of the bracelet based on feedback from more than 200 preuniversity girls. Many already owned a wearable but most were fitness trackers, like those made by FitBit and Jawbone. What seemed to be missing was a wearable to enhance girls’ social lives.
“We talked to girls between the ages of 9 and 14 about what interests them, and universally what we heard was that friendship is huge,” Chipps said in a TechCrunch article.
LEARNING WITH FRIENDS
The bracelet consists of a colorful nylon wristband and a plastic charm that contains a computer chip, a button, and four flashing LEDs in any of eight colors.
The Jewelbots smartphone app can program features into the bracelet, having it, say, light up, vibrate, or change colors when two or more friends connected to the network are within about 6 meters of each other. When a group is gathered together, the bracelets go into “party mode,” flashing lots of colored lights. Or the kids can connect their bracelet charms to a USB drive in their computer and program other functions using open-source Arduino-compatible code.
Even if a child isn’t ready to dive into programming, she still can take advantage of a few simple functions, such as syncing her Jewelbot with others by connecting to the same Bluetooth network. Everyone who wants to be connected presses and holds the button on their charm at the same time.
Jewelbot wearers can use the app to program their bracelet to sync with other apps—to light up in a certain color when the wearer has a new follower on social media, for example, or when a text message is received from a specific person or when a weather app indicates it’s going to rain.
The Jewelbot developers also had privacy and safety in mind. They did not give the bracelets GPS; instead, the jewelry is connected over a secure Bluetooth network. Only the wearers’ proximity to each other can be sensed—not their locations. And the devices store no personal data.