When the coronavirus pandemic began so many, many eons ago, most of us were content to use those cheap, disposable surgical masks — at least when we could get our hands on them. But as it became increasingly apparent that these “unprecedented times” wouldn’t be returning to normal anytime soon, we started buying reusable fabric masks. Like a hat or pair of sneakers, you probably want your mask to reflect your character if you’re going to have to wear it every day. Unfortunately, a quirky fabric pattern probably doesn’t do a good job of expressing your individuality. That’s why Austin Nelson integrated an LED display into their face mask design.
This project is intended to be done with the kind of reusable fabric face mask that has a pocket for a replaceable filter. Nelson claims that even after adding the electronics, the mask is still comfortable, light, and breathable. We can’t corroborate that claim, because the electronic components almost certainly add quite a bit of weight and might restrict airflow a bit. The combined weight of all of the components should be roughly 35 grams, which is about half as heavy as a typical 60W incandescent light bulb. Is that a helpful comparison? In any case, it should be comfortable enough to wear while you’re taking a quick jaunt to the grocery store.
The messages and animations are shown on a flexible 8x8 NeoPixel RGB LED matrix from Adafruit. The resolution is too low to display anything complex, but it does work well for short scrolling text and low-res pixel art animations. The original version of Nelson’s design used an Adafruit Flora development board and a 150mAh LiPo battery, but Nelson has an upgraded version in the works. The new version will be built around an Adafruit Feather HUZZAH32 ESP32 board and a larger 500mAh battery. He also plans to develop a companion app for Android and iOS that will make it easy to setup messages or animations and control the display via Bluetooth. It may even be possible to integrate a second LED matrix to facilitate longer messages.