Scroll text across your face mask with NeoPixel and Raspberry Pi

Have you perfected your particular combination of ‘eye widening then squinting’ to let people know you’re smiling at them behind your mask? Or do you need help expressing yourself from this text-scrolling creation by Caroline Dunn?

The mask running colourful sample code

What’s it made of?

The main bits of hardware need are a Raspberry Pi 3 or Raspberry Pi 4 or Raspberry Pi Zero W (or a Zero WH with pre-soldered GPIO header if you don’t want to do soldering yourself), and an 8×8 Flexible NeoPixel Matrix with individually addressable LEDs. The latter is a two-dimensional grid of NeoPixels, all controlled via a single microcontroller pin.

Raspberry Pi and the NeoPixel Matrix (bottom left) getting wired up

The NeoPixel Matrix is attached to a cloth face that which has a second translucent fabric layer. The translucent layer is to sew your Raspberry Pi project to, the cloth layer underneath is a barrier for germs.

You’ll need a separate 5V power source for the NeoPixel Matrix. Caroline used a 5V power bank, which involved some extra fiddling with cutting up and stripping an old USB cable. You may want to go for a purpose-made traditional power supply for ease.

Running the text

To prototype, Caroline connected the Raspberry Pi computer to the NeoPixel Matrix via a breadboard and some jumper wires. At this stage of your own build, you check everything is working by running this sample code from Adafruit, which should get your NeoPixel Matrix lighting up like a rainbow.

The internal website on the left

Once you’ve got your project up and running, you can ditch the breadboard and wires and set up the key script, app.py, to run on boot.

Going mobile

To change the text scrolling across your mask, you use the internal website that’s part of Caroline’s code.

And for a truly mobile solution, you can access the internal website via mobile phone by hooking up your Raspberry Pi using your phone’s hotspot functionality. Then you can alter the scrolling text while you’re out and about.

Caroline wearing the 32×8 version

Caroline also created a version of her project using a 32×8 Neopixel Matrix, which fits on the across the headband of larger plastic face visors.

If you want to make this build for yourself, you’d do well to start with the very nice in-depth walkthrough Caroline created. It’s only three parts; you’ll be fine.

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