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Pardon Me, But These Lasers and Blinking Lights Mean You Are Standing Too Close

Let strangers know they're invading your personal space with this annoying little gadget.

Personal space is a scarce commodity in big, crowded cities. And Zac Ong has designed a rather special tool to defend it.

Feast your eyes on "Repel," Ong's wearable security system for folks who value their breathing room. The recent grad of Singapore's LASALLE College of the Arts has outfitted a bulky sash containing all sorts of electronics; strapping it on makes the wearer look like the Terminator of Hall Monitoring.

From top to bottom there are: a ruby laser mounted inside a housing that slowly spins in a circle; a swatch of white fabric that pulses with soft red light; a line of wooden buttons that would look at home on the wool coat of an English gent; 16 blue LEDs arranged in a cross; two 6-volt batteries (I'm hoping this kind and not the golf-cart variety, though I wouldn't be surprised).

Once a person activates "Repel" and all systems are go, the sash starts to passively sense the environment for foreign bodies. Should another human begin to approach within its danger zone, intending to ask for directions or the time or some scary shit like that, an infrared sensor on the chest is triggered that causes the whole thing to go haywire. The laser immediately reverses direction and starts to spin violently like a top. A red light over the heart flashes like a railroad-warning sign. The LEDs light up in a foreboding X and, hilariously, the wooden buttons gyrate so fast they're just blurs. The closer a person gets, the faster they spin.

The cumulative effect is that the "Repel" owner looks like he's about to explode. That should be effective at keeping most strangers away, as who wants to get hit in the eyeball by a flying button? Of course, the same effect could be achieved by just screaming loudly at the top of one's lungs until the offending solicitor walks away, but that wouldn't be half as funny.

"'Repel' is trying to project a person's uncomfortable feeling when there is someone close to them by using some electronic components," Ong explains on his website. "Such as the laser represents restriction, the red LED represents heartbeat and the button represents the user's emotion." He says that he hopes his invention will "raise awareness among people."

Consider my awareness raised. If I ever see Ong sauntering down the street rocking this piece of wearable art, brother, I am definitely heading in the opposite direction. Or at least putting on sunglasses. (H/t Syuzi at Fashioning Tech, who writes: "I bet you every DIY Dad will strap one of these things onto their tween to wear to their first junior high dance.")

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.