Being stuck at home for weeks on end has given the world’s hardware hackers some extra time to come up with some truly wonderful creations. Chelsea Klukas, a Product Design Manager at Oculus who’s also known for her experiments merging fashion and tech, has created an LED face mask that could be the most coveted gadget of 2020.
Following in the footsteps of countries like China and South Korea where face mask usage is a common and socially acceptable practice, the rest of the world is coming around to the idea that wearing the precautionary accessories could be the new norm moving forward. As such, not only is there going to be a huge demand for masks, there’s also going to be a demand for fashion-forward designs, and masks that let the wearer express themselves through fabric choice, or in this case, a touch of technology.
In addition to her duties at Oculus, Klukas also runs her own company called Lumen Couture which merges fashion and technology through accessories like belts, and even entire dresses, infused with glowing LED accents. So it wasn’t that much of a leap to take the same approach to creating upgraded face masks: a pandemic accessory that people might actually be more encouraged to wear out in public.
Inside the dual-layer cotton masks is a moisture-resistant, paper-thin flexible panel covered in LEDs bright enough to glow through its outer layer. With 512 pixels the resolution doesn’t come anywhere close to your smartphone, but it’s more than enough to create scrolling messages, pixel art, or even activate a graphic EQ that responds in real-time to your voice, through a mobile app that connects and uploads designs to the panel over Bluetooth. Battery life should be at least four hours depending on the complexity of the design being displayed, but Klukas doesn’t recommend wearing the mask for quite that long given its extra weight and reduced breathability.
You can buy the masks through the Lumen Couture website but they’re $US90 ($148) each, and in high-demand right now (and currently out of stock) so it might be a while before yours arrives. Alternately, Klukas has shared a detailed walkthrough on how the masks are made over on YouTube, and you can order the flexible LED panels for $US25 ($41) from Wearable Tech Tutorials if you think you’ve got the sewing skills needed to make your own. (It’s just assumed that you’ve got the time.)