This Fashion Tech Pioneer is Animating Face Masks With Voice-Responsive LEDs
Fashion technology entrepreneur Chelsea Klukas is turning the face masks necessary for public health during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis into customizable canvasses. People wearing her Lumen Couture LED Display mask can use the connected app to speak or draw any message they want to appear across their faces.
Festival to Face Mask
The mask is a standard cloth cover for the mouth and nose but comes with a removable LED screen and other tech components. The free mobile app for the mask offers a blank page for drawing pictures or writing text and uses the device’s own microphone to turn speech into text displayed on the mask. The mask can also turn music and other audio into equalizer tracks as seen at the top of the page. The display is powered by a chargeable battery that Klukas said can last for several hours before needing to be plugged in. The masks are new, but Klukas has been creating tech-enabled clothing and accessories for almost a decade.
“It was way way back before wearable tech was a thing and immediately gained international attention because no one was doing anything like it,” Klukas told Voicebot in an interview. “The prototypes were like wearable art, they were extremely expensive and fragile. Two years ago I started the line for festival wear and special events. but those all were canceled this year. The masks came about almost by accident. I was originally only making regular masks for some friends, but I had the components around and added them.”
Klukas, a Seattle-based product design manager for Oculus, filmed a video instructing people how to build their own masks, but was inundated with requests for finished versions. As she had the supply chain in place for both the cloth and the tech, it was a relatively easy transition. Her tech manufacturer and the Vietnamese tailor who makes the clothing for her were happy for the extra work at a time when a lot of commerce has slowed. For the first few months, the nearly $5,000 in proceeds from the mask were donated to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 relief fund. Klukas currently assembles each mask at her workshop and ships them directly but is working on setting up an Amazon store as well.
“Of course knockoffs are starting to show up on the market, so it’s a race against time there,” Klukas said. “I’m trying to get manufacturing costs down and looking at other forms of fulfillment to compete with the knockoffs.”
Experiments combining tech with face masks are starting to pop up as the pandemic continues. Video game designer Tyler Glaiel shared his own DIY voice-activated mask with LED lights. His creation is limited to mimicking talking and smiling but includes a microphone in the mask. Then there’s Japanese tech startup Donut Robotics with a device that goes over a cloth mask and translates speech into different languages and broadcast from a connected smartphone’s speakers. Lumen Couture already had a place in the wearable tech space, although Klukas said the masks attract a different, broader clientele.
“People buying the masks are definitely a different demographic from regular customers,” Klukas said. “There are a lot more men. But, it all shows how masks can be a form of self-expression. As things open up I think there will be more theatrical uses, [combining] masks with belts and chokers or the more high-powered hoodies.”