Platforms like the Arduino are making it increasingly easy for people to dip their toes into hardware programming, but without a specific, fun project to work on, it can be hard to get hooked. The Bright Eyes Kit, a new project from the tech education collective Technology Will Save Us, might be just the thing to bring today’s dubstep-addled youth into the hardware-hacking fold. The kit, currently the focus of a new Kickstarter campaign, gives users a pair of programmable sunglasses outfitted with 174 LEDs. The more you learn, the more you can make them do.
Out of the box, the shades will play low-resolution videos via a Micro SD card slot. But in line with the London-based collective’s greater goal of encouraging understanding about how our gadgets work, the real aim of the kit is to inspire people to tinker. With some entry-level Arduino skills, users can make the LEDs light up in patterns or pulse to the beat of music, thanks to a microphone built into the frames. Part of the Kickstarter funding, the team told me, would go to the creation of a platform where users could share Bright Eyes software for further learning.
The TWSU team first started on the glasses when a friend, bound for Burning Man, requested something spectacular he could wear to the festival. Daniel Hirschmann, one of the collective’s founders, says that his crew has always been keen on wearable tech, and this project gave them a chance to get a bit deeper into its possibilities. "After our first stab at the glasses," he says, "we realized what a fun platform they were to create content for. We also realized that there were many ways to create that content—whether by converting video or writing the code itself." And so, as with many of the lab’s personal projects these days, the new kit was born.
The group currently has seven DIY kits available on their site, giving curious newcomers all the parts necessary for making things like LED greeting cards and solar-powered moisture detectors for plants. It’s all part of the collective’s goal of getting people more interested in the guts that make their gadgets work. "One of the principles of all of our kits," Hirschmann explains, "is to expose rather than hide the tech."
The mission is certainly a noble one, though the Bright Eyes Kit seems like a slightly different means to that end—and an especially clever one. Sure, there’s a satisfaction involved in completing your first LED-adorned birthday card, but it’s hard to imagine that particular project expanding the DIY demographic all that significantly. Give a kid the chance to have the coolest conversation-starting accessory at the concert, however, and you might be onto something.
The Bright Eyes Kit still has a ways to go to reach its £17,500 goal, though there’s still over two weeks left in the campaign. Reserving your own pair will set you back £160, which might seem a bit steep, but when you do the math it’s only about a pound per LED. Not to mention all the complementary, erm, party favors you stand to gain by wearing a trippy real-time visualizer on your face.