The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Build an Illuminated Halloween Costume With the Wearable Gemma M0 Microcontroller

The Gemma board’s embedded Python lets you change your code on the fly

4 min read
Human wearing the costume’s light display.
Microcontrolled Monk: Touching a capacitive sensor switches this costume’s light display from an eerie white glow surrounding the mask to an upper-body animation in full color.
Photo: Randi Klett

Halloween is approaching, and with it a global parade of costumes. So I thought this would be the perfect time to try out a new wearable microcontroller from Adafruit Industries: the Gemma M0.

Adafruit has been putting out wearable microcontrollers for several years. These differ from conventional controllers, such as the Arduino Uno, in that the wearables are typically more compact and use pads with large through holes for input and output, instead of pins. These holes make it easy to sew boards to fabric or tie conductive thread to the pads. What makes the Gemma M0 particularly interesting is that it runs CircuitPython, Adafruit’s modified version of the Python language designed for embedded devices. (At this point, I should note that Limor Fried, the founder of Adafruit, is a member of IEEE Spectrum’s editorial advisory board, but she played no role in the origination of this article.)

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

Keep Reading ↓Show less