Experiments in wearable electronic art.

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Anthrolume at The Tech Museum in San Jose

TheTechI’ll be speaking and roaming around The Tech Museum’s OpenMake:Flow event Saturday from 10am to 3pm. If you’re a maker, or want to be one, drop by and hang out with a bunch of makers and check out their creations, mine among them.

Open Make @ The Tech – Saturday, April 26, 2014

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Anthrolume shines again at Burning Man 2013


Photo courtesy Matt Stone

I’ve been back from Burning Man 2013 for a couple weeks now and I’ve succeeded in the sometimes-painful reintegration of myself into the default world. Anthrolume was, ultimately, built for Burning Man, so of course I had a great time wearing it again, meeting hundreds of people, and showing off the newest features, which I’ll talk about here. The suit still draws a great deal of attention, even though there are plenty of people out there now wearing a lot of LEDs.

I spent a lot of time on the music-reactivity of the suit this year, entirely re-writing all that code. The suit syncs to music much better than it did last year. Additionally, I made 100 made-for-music animations that do something obvious every 12 frames, My suit keeps those 12-frame intervals synced to the music, so the suit changes every beat. You can get an idea of what it looks like in this short video clip.

(Video courtesy Matt Stone)

On top of that, I made the suit able to transmit beats to my campmates via XBee radio. My suit sends simple commands to the rest of them to change to new colors/patterns every beat, along with other simple commands such as blacking out their suits. It’s pretty effective, as can be seen in the video below, but next year I’ll make my suit do the same simplified things as theirs so we all look the same.

Guest UI

Guest UI lets anyone control Anthrolume

Another big feature this year that I added at the last minute is called “Guest mode.” Basically I created a tab in my Android phone app that I can hand to people on the playa and just let them control my suit directly. Here’s what the phone app looks like.

A guest can drag their finger around the hue wheel to change my suit’s color in real time as they drag. If they tap the middle of the wheel, The suit changes to lots of random colors. The four lobes on the hue wheel run various random animations. And the slider on the bottom makes the suit flash, the flash rate increasing as the guest drags to the right. The interface is deliberately unadorned with text or instructions – it invites experimentation.

On top of that, my suit can retransmit this guest input to the other people in my camp. Here’s a short clip of someone on an art car controlling me and my campmates all at once with my phone.

And as always it was great fun being out with my other heavily-LEDed Prismaticamp campmates. Here’s a little of us all together.

(Video courtesy Greg McMahon)

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Battery and computer belt done

Today I finished the last major piece of fabrication for Anthrolume 3.0 – the new battery & computer belt. This part of the suit is a complete ground-up rebuild from last year. The only part in common is the belt itself, to which I’d already sewn a bunch of industrial Velcro.

Finished belt

Finished Anthrolume 3.0 computer and battery belt.

This updated belt, with its 16 batteries, should keep the suit alive for around 8 hours, or more if I remember to turn down the brightness of the suit when I’m just trudging across the playa.

From here on out it’s software and animations. I’m going to try to finish up the software in the next two weeks, then spend the rest of the time between that and Burning Man creating tons of new original animations that take advantage of the suit’s faster music reactivity.

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New battery boxes completed

I just finished fabricating the five boxes that handle power for Anthrolume 3.0. Four of them hold the 12 batteries that power the LEDs in the suit, and the middle box holds four more batteries that power the CPU box. Additionally that last box consolidates all the power together and contains the master power switch.

Battery Boxes

Battery boxes for the Anthrolume 3.0 belt.

Last year the power switch was located at the back of the belt, which, idiotically, I couldn’t reach. So I had to have someone reach around my waist to turn the suit on. This year that design flaw is remedied. Now the power switch is in the front where it ought to be. Having the belt clasp in the front will be more convenient too.

This morning I did a full system test with the suit running off the new battery boxes and new CPU board and everything’s working great. There’s just a little more fabrication to do to create the wiring harnesses that link all the battery boxes together, and after that it’ll be all software and animations.


Anthrolume 3.0

I have been in stealth mode since the end of Anthrolume’s gallery showing last year, but behind the scenes I’ve been working my ass off on Anthrolume 3.0. Now that I’ve made some serious progress it’s time for an update.


  • Better music reactivity
  • Longer battery life (expected: 8 hours)
  • Many more animations
  • Animation "sets" for different moods/situations (e.g. Mellow, Rave, etc.)
  • Faster, more capable CPU
  • Completely re-engineered CPU board, power boards, and battery belt

The suit itself – the jumpsuit with 250 LEDs mounted in it, will remain the same. It’s the stuff under the suit that’s changing, along with the software the runs it.

The big change this year (for me at least) is switching to an ARM-based CPU board called a Maple Mini. I was introduced to this product by someone who attended my talk about Anthrolume at a Dorkbot meeting in Seattle. It uses a 72MHz ARM processor and has 20K of RAM and 128K of flash. It is, for my purposes, superior to the Arduino Mega I used last year, and even superior to the new Arduino Due (which is also ARM-based) because the Maple Mini has dual SPI interfaces, allowing me to communicate with my SD-card reader on one SPI interface and the LED strand on the other, all with hardware acceleration. Those two SPI busses in conjunction with the faster CPU give me more timing accuracy and thereby enable better music reactivity.

Porting the 5,000 lines of software from the Arduino was a little daunting, but turned out to be largely straightforward, thanks to Maple’s nearly identical API and the existence of a few key libraries from the Maple community.

I was getting about six hours of battery life from the eight LiPo batteries I had powering the LEDs in Anthrolume 2.0, which might seem like a lot, but every night at Burning Man I was running the batteries into the ground. I want to run out of energy before my suit does! So this year I’m adding four more batteries to the stack that powers the LEDs for a total of 12. They are wired in series-parallel for 7.4V with 16,200mAh of current on tap. For comparison, that’s about 1/3 the capacity of a small car battery.

The new CPU is much smaller and runs at 3.3V. So this year I’m running all four of my small batteries in parallel, for 3.7V at 5,200mAh of capacity for the computer and radios. That is probably enough power to run for a week, but I haven’t done a current test yet.

The suit will continue to support Bluetooth control from a phone app (now running in a slick little HTC Incredible), and XBee radio sync with the other members of my whack Prismaticamp crew.

The New Belt

Here’s a schematic drawing of the new belt. This year I’m putting the belt clasp in the front. The CPU box moves to one side, with the CPU battery box (and power switch) to the other for easier access. The four LED battery boxes will live on the sides like before.


Schematic of the AL3.0 belt

The New CPU Board

The new CPU board is compelted and works great. It can play back animations off the SD card and do about 85% of the things the pre-port code could do. Here’s the board layout of the new board along with images of the completed part.

board layout

The new Anthrolume computer board layout

The board has three connectors on it:

  • Power – 5V and 3.7V from the power consolidation box
  • Keypad – for the hand-held keypad
  • LED – where the computer attaches to the suit itself.

This year I changed fabrication methods, reverting to a construction technique that peaked in the 60s called "wire wrap." It turns out to be insanely fast compared to the fabrication methods I’ve used in the past, and was a huge win. It pays to plan ahead (as I did), but it’s rapid and easy, and can be tested in phases. When I had the entire board wrapped (which took one night) and tested, I finally soldered all the wrap points and cut the pins.

board both sides

The front and back of the new Anthrolume computer board

Another nice side effect of switching CPUs was that now I can use a lower-profile box for the CPU – less bulging around the belt. And I’m using the same size LDPE box for everything now, batteries and CPU alike.

The suit’s animations are still precomputed by my (updated) Animaker software and stored on an SD card. This year the animations are partitioned into sets for different moods or locales. Currently I have a “Mellow” and a “Rave” set but I may make some that are related to moods, predominant colors, etc. Any one animation may be present in multiple sets. This change, while seemingly simple, turned out to be quite a challenging change to the software both on the PC (Animaker) and on the embedded software that runs on Anthrolume. But hopefully the result will be a better experience for everyone watching.

Animaker 3.0

I did a lot of work on Animaker for this version of the suit, mostly to add support for sets as described above. I also added a one-button Export All that creates an SD-card-ready image of everything that the suit needs. Additionally I did a general cleanup of the interface. Here is the Animation tab of the updated software.

Animaker 3 anim

The Animation tab of Animaker 3.0

Here’s the Sets tab, which handles set management and various batch processing.

Animaker 3 sets

The Sets tab of the Animaker 3.0 software


AnthrolumeControl is the name of the Android control application I wrote to handle more complex interactions with the suit, such as typing text to be scrolled across the front and back of the suit. That software is largely unchanged, but some new functionality as been added for switching between animation sets.


What’s really going to make Anthrolume seem different from what it was last year will be gobs of new animations. I have learned from experience what looks good, and that even simple animations I make myself can really make the suit shine (no pun intended). I am changing the way I do music interaction with the hand controller this time, and that in conjunction with the faster response time of the new CPU should make the suit’s animation cuts be dot-on with the beat of music. That’s my goal anyway. As I improve the music interaction I’ll post video showing what it looks like.

All in all, it’s a pretty exciting time over here in the land of Anthrolume. Stay tuned for updates.