Dazzling is the word that comes to mind when you see the Pixeldelic Vest by artist, designer, and maker Joshua Hubert. He is bringing it to Maker Faire Bay Area again this year, so if you didn’t get a chance to meet Joshua last year, you’ll get another shot this weekend. He will be roaming around, so he doesn’t have a set exhibit location, but you might find him in the darkened Fiesta Hall.
I asked him a couple of questions about how he built this eye-catching number, and he gave me the lowdown:
What made you think of creating the Pixeldelic Vest?
As a sculptural lighting artist who takes as much of a scientific as a creative approach towards my work I am always looking at new technologies. When I learned about the technology behind individual addressable LEDs, I did not know what I wanted to make, but I recognized the unlimited potential and knew I needed to create an LED array to start experimenting. I realized that if I made a traditional sculpture or studio setup of LEDs, it would be just as challenging to share my work with my target audience as it would be to create the work itself. I concluded that if I could wear the technology I could take it with me wherever I go, acting as a literal beacon to attract those interested in my art or technology directly to me.
I knew to be taken seriously I had to create something that didn’t look like a thrown together science fair project, I needed to do it right. I sought out to make an ergonomic design that was also fashionable. I created a comfortably weighted design using quality materials such as real leather, stainless steel, water resistant LEDs and connectors, and soft plush interior that hid all wiring while keeping the wearer cool. The goal was to create a piece of wearable technology that looked good even when the LEDs were not turned on.
What I never expected was the symbiotic experience I felt wearing a piece of technology that is able affect people around me. Years of observations of the social influence and personal experience of wearing the vest has got my mind racing with the endless ways to evolve what is possible with a wearable LED array. There is so much more to come.
What are you using to program it?
I picked a common LED Chipset (WS2081) that is compatible with a wide variety of languages such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and BeagleBone, so anybody with programming knowledge can make their own patterns and input interfaces. But I wanted to make sure a user with no programming knowledge could easily make their own custom patterns easily. Using a fantastically user friendly program called LEDedit 2012, it allows a user to record a section of a desktop PC screen and save it onto an SD card. Simply overlay an onscreen frame around anything like a music visualizer, a video, a GIF file, or something as simple as MS Paint to record stunning custom patterns. Just pop the SD card into the compact T-1000S controller, pick your pattern, and go light up the night. While I am working on wireless capabilities I can currently wire the vest directly to a PC for live input, allowing musicians and DJs wear a full color music visualizer, or to set up a live video feed to create a cloaking effect. There are truly endless possibilities.
I am currently working with the PixlePusher that will allow users to transmit what they viewing on their smartphones and tablets to the LEDs wirelessly in real time. This opens up amazing possibilities I am only starting to explore. Imagine going to a concert/party/festival, the microphone on your smartphone picks up the ambient music turning the LEDs into a full color music visualizer, the gyroscope shows patterns based on your dancing and movements, the GPS lights up the LEDs to tell you which way you are going or point towards saved locations and friends, a Bluetooth fitness wristband displays you pulse and vitals onto the LEDs, while a Brainwave sensor headband visualizes your thoughts and emotions. The goal is for the LEDs to autonomously produce a complete biometic display to become a symbiotic experience with the user.
How long did it take you to make?
The initial build took just 3 days to conceive and create, but in reality I have been working on the project for 3 years now. It is an ever-evolving prototype. While I now have a finalized design available that has been rigorously field tested, proven durable, and user friendly I am still learning how to make future models better. Since its creation I have replaced nearly every element (LEDs, Controller, power system) with better versions.
Most recently I have solved the power issue that has plagued my design for years, but I have finally developed a system that uses a compact LiPo battery that lasts 10+ hours at full brightness and recharges in about an hour, allowing an entire night of hassle free glow. But as I have the ability to create an endless number of patterns created be an endless variety of data the project can never actually be completed; it only evolve further.
My favorite feature of the vest is the spectacular effect is has on with people around me. Last year at the Maker Faire and dozens of other events it never ceases to amaze me how people gravitate towards the lights and patterns. My friend has aptly given the nickname “Moths” to people who crowd around, follow, and run up to me. I have worn one of my own vests, my own personal model, for 200+ hours over the years, to the point I actually forget I am wearing an object blasting full color patterns into a room, and sometimes forget why folk are staring at me.
It’s been a fantastic social experiment, to see how the presents of me wearing the vest can affect not only individuals but the entire mood of an environment. It also acts a beacon for other artists/scientists/engineers who introduce themselves to me who otherwise would have walked right by me if I was dressed in my daily attire. It is impossible to express how many amazing people I have met, how many backstage and VIP areas I have been invited into, and how many life changing opportunities have come my way thanks to my creation.
The Pixeldelic Vest was a contender in last year’s Pitch Your Prototype challenge at the Hardware Innovation Workshop.