RGB LED Scrolling Facemask - Make: Community
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RGB LED Scrolling Facemask

By Lorraine Underwood

State: North Yorkshire
Country: United Kingdom
Affiliation: Company - element14 presents


What inspired you or what is the idea that got you started?

I started this project in the Summer of 2020 when there were facemask restrictions in the UK and worldwide. Like everyone else, I was finding it difficult to understand people's muffled voices behind a mask. I saw another Maker make a mask that reacted to the tone and pitch of his voice - it displayed a smile at a certain pitch and a shocked face. I thought it was a really fun project but it would be much better if the mask actually showed what he was saying! Then I got the typical maker's thoughts: "Why not? Can I build it? How would I build that??" And I got to work!

What is your project about and how does it work?

My project is two 8x8 RGB LED grids connected together, powered by a lipo battery and controlled by a microcontroller that is connected to my phone over Bluetooth. The project fits inside the sleeve of a normal facemask.
I created a simple app that takes the text and sends it over Bluetooth to the microcontroller. I use the in built speech to text feature of my phone to transcribe my speech into text - this way it's really accurate! The microcontroller inside the masks takes the text and scrolls it across the RGB LED grids. It takes symbols > and < to speed up and slow down the speed of the text. [ and ] also increase and decrease the brightness.

What did you learn by doing this project?

So much! For element14 presents I was using a raspberry pi in my pocket to try and use python libraries to transcribe the text. Then I used a really expensive PC software at my husband's work! That was really good (but so expensive!). I was sending the text over Bluetooth from his work PC when it dawned on me that my phone has a speech-to-text transcription service built it. I never created an app before, luckily this app already existed and the owner allowed me to adapt his to create mine. When your phone transcribes your speech it tends to go back and change words as it realizes the context. This meant the mask would scroll a word, stop and start another word. I fixed this in my app.

What impact does your project have on others as well as yourself?

Lots of people really liked the mask. It was very popular in the element14 community and my own social circles. When the text starts scrolling across my mask they squeal with delight! For me, it helped me realize that often a simpler solution exists out there. We don't have to reinvent the wheel every time we're doing a project, just cause we can! My background is in Computer Science so I tend to start coding before researching other existing solutions.