The LED-meisters at macetech LLC seized upon this week's Maker Faire to unveil an eye-catching pair of prototype "LED matrix shades" that light up in a variety of dynamic patterns. When the shades hit the market in six to eight weeks, users will be able to program patterns of their own, thanks to the Arduino-compatible electronics from which they're made. macetech's Garrett Mace gave Gizmag an exclusive insight into the development of the shades, which look like they've fallen through a portal from some future urban dystopia.
With the first prototype completed mere weeks ago, Mace worked hurriedly in the final days before Maker Faire to complete the second-generation LED shades that were to be revealed. LEDs aside, most of the electronic components are housed in the arms of the glasses. On the right is the ATmega328 microcontroller and FT230X chip, a mini-USB port (for charging the shades, as well as uploading new programs), pins for extending the hardware with sensors and the like, and a push button for switching between LED display patterns. This may not be the coolest button in the world, but it's in the top twenty.
The left arm holds the power switch, the 400 mAh lithium polymer battery which powers the device, and its MCP73831 charge controller.
The LEDs themselves are arranged in a 6 x 20 matrix on the front PCB of the shades. In all there are 104 0603-type LEDs, with some missing from the grid at the ends of the rows to make room for components, and to allow room for your nose (an important design requirement in all glasses).
The development has not been without challenges. Mace describes prototyping on a two-layer PCBs as "pretty excruciating" so subsequent versions will use four-layer boards. The shades' power supply may require an upgrade to drive white or blue LEDs which have higher forward voltage. But the biggest problem, according to Mace, have been the hinges connecting the arms to the face.
"We currently use 3D-printed brackets held on with hot glue, and the glue eventually peels off the PCB," he told Gizmag. "We don't have the cash to invest in custom injection molds, so a few people have brought up the idea of a Kickstarter. We'd rather avoid that (people seem to go a little crazy around Kickstarters), but it might be the way to go."
Kickstarter or no, Mace hopes to make the shades available by the end of July, and though price is yet to be confirmed, there is cause for optimism. "Pricing is still up in the air depending on what we need to do to work out the problems, but we'll be trying our best to keep it at two figures," Mace said.
Though there's no mention of the product yet on macetech's website, it's well worth a browse. Though only a part-time, two-man outfit, the company's previous work has appeared in the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Twilight Eclipse and a Blue Man Group tour.
But really, these shades need to be seen to be appreciated. Check out macetech's video below (I think I squeaked, audibly, when the button is pressed for the sine wave pattern). For once I'll include the text description that goes with it. The reasons are self-explanatory.
We at macetech LLC are proud of our existence as an intra-spacetime provider of technology. Our goal is to insert technological developments into the time periods where they should exist, rather than where they were initially developed. The LED matrix shades project was successfully inserted into 1981 at considerable risk.