Though I don’t generally carry a purse, I can definitely appreciate the excellent look of this bag. Creator Debra Ansell, AKA “Geek Mom,” has a Masters in physics and formerly worked as a software engineer. These days she stays at home to raise her three boys. Once her middle son started playing with LEGO Mindstorms, she started to slip back into “geek mode,” and when someone recommended using an Arduino, she was hooked.
The bag in question, seen in the video below, is actually her second try at this type of accessory (see version 1 here), and contains an LED matrix made out of RGB strips behind a mesh of vinyl material. She used 8 LED strips 14 LEDs long instead of a ready-made matrix in order to maintain flexibility, as well as the fact that she could cut it to whatever size was needed. Her first idea was actually an LED T-shirt in this style, but this type of matrix isn’t flexible enough to move naturally with this type of garment. A purse however, which only flexes intermittently, seems like a great fit.
I was especially impressed that Ansell sewed this bag from scratch, however, she assures me that, “It’s actually much easier to sew a handbag than a garment, because a handbag (at least the design I used) is made from almost entirely straight lines.” She does note however, that she originally planned to laser cut her handbag pieces, but since she was using vinyl, this would have been a huge problem. After talking to the owner of the makerspace where she was planning to make the cuts, he informed her that, “Lasers plus vinyl yield chlorine gas.”
This would have been a potentially fatal mistake, and something people starting with laser cutters should really take note of. This is a great reminder to talk to someone more knowledgeable if you’re not quite sure about the process you’re about to use!
Besides displaying programmed patterns (which can be manipulated via a smartphone using a Bluetooth connection), the bag can also display tweets. When active, you can tweet using the hashtag #twitterbag to have the tweet show up on her purse. According to her, “Initially only the Twitter username was displayed, because I was worried that people might send obscene message.” Thus far, only a few people have ever tweeted at it, so it now displays the whole text.
If you’re keen on trying it out, she notes that it’s not active that much, since it’s a distraction in most places that Ansell goes. She hints that she may eventually set up a Twitter account for the bag to announce when it’s online, so perhaps we’ll get to interact with it more in the future.
Another great feature of this bag is that the LED matrix is removable. She actually made a smaller evening clutch version of this purse that the matrix can be inserted into. She reports that she has actually used this version more, because “dress-up events are the ones where you frequently find yourself standing around just looking at other people,” and she can set the LED palette to match what she is wearing.
Not that she never uses the bag featured here. According to her,
I did take the tote bag to a rock concert (Paul Simon) and was holding the bag up in the air while scrolling messages like “I love you Paul!” as well as various song lyrics in the hopes that he’d see them. He didn’t respond, but the people seated around me were amused (and my husband was mildly embarrassed!)
Ansell estimates that she spent about two months working on and off on this project, but much of it was spent doing research on the software involved. She does say, however, that after having gone through the build process, she could probably build another bag in around 14 hours. 8 to sew the bag (she claims to sew quite slowly), and another 4-6 to take care of the electronics.
You can see a short pictorial summary of what went into the build below. If you’d like to build your own, be sure to check out the pages linked above. For those of us that don’t use purses, perhaps this idea could be adapted to a backpack or any number of other wearable items.