A Q&A with the Woman Who Designed Her Own 'Hacker Heels'
SexyCyborg’s Wu Ying shoes combine femme fashion with some clever tech.
It might be the most badass real-world femme fatale thing I've seen in a long time: a pair of 3D printed platform shoes with a sliding compartment containing a set of hacker tools.
Built by Reddit user SexyCyborg, the Wu Ying shoes ("shadowless" in Chinese) contain a USB keystroke recorder, a wireless router, a retractable Ethernet cable, a shim for opening padlocks, and a set of lockpicks. Equally impressive is that the shoes remain wearable even after the compartment has been removed, at least for someone of comparable weight.
SexyCyborg has been experimenting with wearable tech for a while, starting with programmable LED shoes and a micro-mini LED skirt. Every skill in her arsenal is self-taught.
Reading the detailed Imgur walkthrough of how she built her most impressive project yet, I was struck by her confident and no-nonsense attitude. SexyCyborg receives a lot of online flak for her appearance (which is striking for a number of self-evident reasons) but is refreshingly unapologetic about using her femininity as part of her aesthetic.
Since SexyCyborg is based in Shenzhen, China, I spoke with her via email to find out more about her design process.
MOTHERBOARD: So, where did the idea for the hacker heels come from?
SexyCyborg: After I did the LED skirt I wanted to try another LED wearable. I decided on platform heels and made these. I had to import a pair of platform heels from the US with a cutout to put objects in the front platform. This was a bit expensive and the results less than satisfactory.
Since my shoes are pretty much a big chunk of plastic I got the idea to 3D print the next pair. While designing it I started playing around incorporating drawers and storage space. My concern is since most women's clothing does not have pockets, if we lose our handbags or they get stolen it's really a huge problem. Shoes—particularly chunky platform style shoes that many women in China wear to appear taller—have a lot of unused space that's not taken advantage of.
Incorporating the hacker tools was not really a serious build. Just a proof of concept and a bit of fun. One of the Cyberpunk forum posters had complained that LEDs were not really cyberpunk, "hackers were." So it was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek response to that. Also some inspiration from Mr. Robot and a passing interest in pen-testing.
Do you have a background in cybersecurity or engineering? What's your day job?
I'm not particularly skilled, much of the point I try to make with my projects is that the tools that are available now just make these tasks vastly more accessible than they have been in the past.
A lot of the doubt associated with my projects is a bit like people used [to] thinking about trees being cut down by burly men with axes dismissing the idea of a women cutting down trees because they are unaware that chainsaws have been invented.
What was the process of building the shoes like? Did you run into any logistical issues you had to work through?
Nothing too bad. I had to 3D print a few sections to test and make sure the drawer was not too tight or too loose. The early prints were taking 20+ hours so I reduced the printer resolution to .3mm leading to the current kind of grainy appearance.
People new to 3D printing usually want things to appear smooth and will talk about vapor smoothing, etc., but within the actual 3D printing community a little grain is not considered a bad thing. You get used to the aesthetic. Wood has grain, not everything needs to be a glossy blob.
What are some other projects you've worked on?
I just started doing hardware projects in June so it's all very new to me. Just the LED skirt, LED shoes, the Wu Ying shoes, the 3D scan of myself, a small cable guide. Still I enjoy making things, taking photographs with them, hearing feedback—particularly from other women with questions about how to get started. So I think it's something I'll keep doing.
Any ideas for a next project?
I'm publishing a CAD file of the Wu Ying shoes without the drawer that's a bit easier for women to resize and work with. The model I printed of it is actually 3D printed wood, sanded and stained like real wood.
After that I have a few ideas for 3D printable projects for children and young women that I'd like to do. Then maybe something using the Raspberry Pi. It's a good learning platform and I'd like to come up with a reason for girls to take an interest in it.
I noticed your "Edit" section on the Imgur walkthrough addressing the comments you usually get from Redditors about your appearance. Do you get a lot of negative comments from men?
The negativity seems to be about evenly divided between men and women. There's a small but vocal group of people who can't get past my weight issues, body modification choices and eccentric clothing. If they don't like how I look that's their problem.
I prefer to focus on the positive feedback I get, which once people see the result of what I've [been] doing is generally very supportive. Playing "Bait and Switch" with boobs/"Any Woman can be Technical" may be a dirty trick, but it's worked so far to get the message to an audience that would have little interest otherwise and is good fun.