Garrett Mace of macetech LLC recently designed a pair of open-source, programmable
stunna LED Matrix Shades. Now, his bright idea (or eye-dea) has successfully been funded on Kickstarter garnering well over its original $12,000 goal.
A few months back, we had the chance to meet Garrett and personally try on the Makeriffic pair of “stunna shades” at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014. Not only were we impressed by the Arduino-compatible project, but it also caught the eye (literally) of legendary hip-hop artist Sir Mix-A-Lot.
For those unfamiliar with stunna shades, the term originates from right here in San Francisco, deriving from the word ‘hyperactive.’ And it’s safe to say, these LED Matrix Shades have certainly got us hyped.
Not only can a wearer see entirely through the fully-hackable LED matrix, they are quite the attention-grabber at social events, too. “They inspire curiosity among technology enthusiasts of all ages,” says Garrett. “Every function can be reprogrammed by the user, and there are even places to solder your own circuits and sensors.”
“They’re colorful, bright, hackable, and the pinnacle of conversation-starting technology. A fun way to learn programming and electronics, yet just as entertaining for experienced tinkerers. But if you need a stunning fashion accessory without writing code, they’re pre-loaded with dazzling patterns,” Garrett writes.
Whether you want to rock these bad boys out of box, or program your own design with an Atmel based Arduino, these shades will fit the need of any Maker. The open-source frames use RGB LEDs that allow for 68 full color pixels to be on display.
“Although the LEDs are very bright from the outside, they’re almost invisible from the inside; you can see out just fine. A programmable microcontroller chooses the color of each pixel to display a wide range of colorful animations,” Garrett adds.
The pixels each contain a small chip that receives commands over a wire, sets the LED color, and passes commands to the next LED. The front panel is a PCB which connects all the LEDs in a single zig-zag chain across the panel. macetech’s program then maps the physical pixel locations to the correct LED on the chain.
The program is stored within an Atmel ATmega328 MCU, which is located on another PCB. While the system does have an on-board power system, Garrett finds that a rechargeable lithium-ion USB battery pack will work best to keep the shades blinking brightly.
The control PCB also features a USB interface (for loading new programs), a power switch and two buttons for interacting with the program. “Our controller and example code is compatible with the popular open source Arduino cross-platform programming environment. That means you can write or upload programs on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux computers, using free downloadable software. You’ll also have access to a huge community of Arduino experts, books, and examples if you’d like to learn how to write your own programs,” says Garrett.
His original design, which he created back in 2012 and debuted at Maker Faire, has now been made available under an OSHW-compatible license. Garrett provides the Eagle CAD files, schematics, board pictures and example Arduino code in an earlier blog, where he also shares other projects and updates. “The original single-color, wearable LED shades were nothing more than prototypes.”
According to Garrett, during their infancy, the shades already managed to become incredibly popular. “They were a huge hit, both at Maker Faire Bay Area and Maker Faire New York. It was impossible to walk down the street in Manhattan without getting comments and questions every few seconds.”
“They were hurriedly designed. Didn’t have much resolution, didn’t have folding hinges or cables with connectors, the battery was taped onto the side, and so on. The biggest problem was one that didn’t show up for months, but claimed all but one of our prototypes (which still works to this day). The problem was that the LED driver ICs along the top edge of the PCB would crack internally due to flexing stress while being worn.”
This led to Garrett to develop the latest version of LED Shades using much smaller driver ICs, which were relocated to a stiffer part of the PCB, enhanced the resolution and brightness control, as well as added hinges and flexible cables. “The first design does have a lot of appeal, though. As opposed to the new design, which requires a 4-layer PCB, the first design worked on a simple 2-layer PCB. Control was very simple through a set of shift registers, whereas the new design uses driver ICs with a very complex I2C protocol. And the first design was much easier to build in a home electronics lab, while the new design uses BGA chips and requires careful solder stencil and reflow work.”
So what’s changed since we last saw this design at Maker Faire Bay Area earlier this spring? Garrett had the brilliant idea to overhaul the hinges on the stunna frames. 3D printing or injection molding were not feasible options, so he turned to a format he already knew well — the same precision manufacturing conducted to create PCBs.
Using this CAD-based approach, the new frames could be constructed with relative ease and no faults. The team writes of the new frames, “The new hinges are surprisingly sturdy, and kind of fun to put together! The only other components are a few stainless steel screws, nuts, and washers.”
With a crowdfunding resource, the team hopes to bring their prototype to a point where it can be mass-produced and dispersed to funky Makers everywhere. Perhaps, you may even find them in the next Sir Mix-A-Lot video! To learn more about the project, head on over to the RGB LED Shades’ official Kickstarter page here.