Wearable LEDs – Apps with promise

-July 31, 2013

Often when I write about wearable LEDs, I’m doing so in my Lighten Up blog in EDN’s LED Zone, extolling the virtues of slippers, belts, earrings, and other bizarre LED-lit merchandise that you might buy for a geek-type at the holidays. Fortunately, I’ve found some recent intros into wearable LEDs that are much more worthwhile and show an interesting future. While it’s true that they are not ready for prime time, they at least make sense.


For example, take the battery-powered backpack with a set of microcontrollers from the Arduino platform and mounted LEDs that blink for 20 seconds in the shape of arrows. Potentially worn by motorcyclists and bike riders, the user can initiate the arrows with a mere turn of the head in the appropriate direction to flip switches on and off with their chin. The technology will be featured in an upcoming episode of The Ben Heck Show on Friday, August 2. Here’s the trailer:

Here’s another pretty cool wearable LED invention.



The PianoGlove uses the adafruit TCS34725 to sense colors. The sensor has RGB and Clear light sensing elements and a 3,800,000:1 dynamic range with adjustable integration time and gain. An IR blocking filter, integrated on-chip and localized to the color sensing photodiodes, minimizes the IR spectral component of the incoming light and allows color measurements to be made accurately. A 3.3V regulator powers the breakout with 3-5VDC safely and level shifting for the I2C pins so they can be used with 3.3V or 5V logic.


A NeoPixel LED is used to ‘play’ those colors back visually, a VS1053 Codec board can decode a wide variety of audio formats such as MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, MIDI, FLAC, WAV (PCM and ADPCM). It can record audio in both PCM (WAV) and compressed Ogg Vorbis. There is also 8 GPIO pins that can be used for lighting up small LEDs or reading buttons, and a Flora wearable microcontroller to handle all the conversion and communication. It seems just a cool thing to do, but I’ll bet it could have some really great applications in the medical/therapy arena.

See more on Flora here:


Finally, Google Glass is prompting such companies to push the LED envelope.

At an event in Taiwan, ITRI showcased a headset with this micro LED technology hooked up to a camera to simulate the viewer’s experience.

The Micro LED chip was made by compound semiconductor process technologies and was assembled to CMOS backplane driver. The micro LED is 0.37 inches and has a screen resolution of 427 x 240 and offers power savings over OLED which is the current technology found in Glass. OLED technology offers 150nit of brightness and what ITRI is showing in green only right now, is 1500 nit of brightness. In terms of power consumption the Micro LED display uses 1 Watt for 15 Lumen and they are going to push through to 1 Watt for 30 Lumen by the end of the year when they will be offering the display in color.

In comparison, Lumiode’s technology uses LED technology as the pixels, The company claims they are more efficient because no light is lost through filtering resulting in a tinier, brighter, more energy-efficient head-mounted displays and projectors.


Lumiode’s technology arranges LEDs into patterns and then covers them with silicon to controls how much light each diode emits. The company claims that, when ready, it will be 30 times brighter and 10 times more efficient than comparable panels though, and they will also be affordable since they use standard components and manufacturing processes.

While some of the more bizarre applications for LEDs may be fun for a good laugh, the technology is advancing rapidly and cost is plunging. I imagine by this time next year there will be an equally impressive new run of uses with great potential, if not more.  

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