The ShirtPIXEL: My Wearable Invention Startup

At the time of this writing two things are being hyped, IoT and wearables, mainly the fitness watch kind. How many times have you been told how many steps someone has taken on their fitness watch today? So you see wearables do have a social interaction component.

As a self-taught entrepreneur in silicon valley and a science fiction blogger of 9 years, new ideas come to my mind quite regularly, literally too many to act upon. I had this idea one year ago and called it my Candy Girl Analysis.

I've since personally invested hundreds of dollars and a whole lot of time to come up with a hardware prototype which I believe will eventually have a significant impact on the advertisement, entertainment and fashion industries. Sure there are things out there somewhat like it, but for now, at the moment I write this, not just like it.

Like most new ideas it has both positive and negative aspects. Before I am releasing this idea into the open source, I want to express my thanks to the people at AdaFruit for their excellent circuit products, comprehensive instructions and libraries and finally to my great and patient friends and family, you know who you are, for enduring my constant discussions and iterative testing to perfect the 7-8 prototypes which I have hand built. The project itself relied on what I call my three “S” skills of hand Sewing, Soldiering and Software programming. Some of which I have to admit I am not so good at. However, I managed thru. Get ready to unpack all this info and instructions.

I believe this is a glimpse of the near future . . . very interesting article about Wearable Communities: Augmenting Social Networks with Wearable Computers, some of this applies to the ShirtPIXEL.

The Prototype

So imagine wearing a t-shirt that displays visual text and images that changes dynamically based on what you do with an app on your phone. If you text a message to the t-shirt it will appear and scroll across your chest for all to see except yourself, unless you are looking down or in a mirror. In which case it will of course be reversed. You see, it is not to attract the attention of your eyes, but someone else's, much like a t-shirt ad for whomever on the chest, but dynamic in nature!

Note: the battery was running low on the black shirt after I left it idle (running no display) and on all night, but still visible. Brightness on white shirt is more accurate.

This of course means you have to want to be bold enough to endure the eyes and judgment of others, and some can not. That aside, it has many uses. It is basically a great attractor, my testing has shown that to be so. People's attention will gravitate towards you if you are in their line of sight. You will essentially stand out. Many people have wanted to buy one from me, but of course I couldn't sell them a single prototype.

Some have asked, “Why not sew it into the shirt?”, clothing, etc. The problem with that is washing. Electronics and water don't mix well. Imagine the damage a washer machine and dryer could do. So making a wearable display which can be wiped off from sweat or dirt is much better. Some have asked, "Why not 3D print a plastic case for it?" I go back to looking at accessories such as wallets, purses, belts, etc. These things we wear daily. Aside from glasses and watches, they are usually made of materials softer and comfortable to wear. I just chose to use this approach rather than a plastic case.

Manufacturing Or Crafting Learning Kit

Manufacturing at this time would require an investment and refinement of the prototypes further (I originally had an idea for the pocketPIXEL, a device that folded up into a pocket, but it had text scrolling flaws making it difficult to read. I think eventually it will be viable with refined technology, but I choose to pivot to the ShirtPIXEL, working name for now).

I also considered a kit type project which would allow a hobbyist or students to learn the three “S” skills in building a fun project that they could use afterwards and impress their friends. And yes, for the many who are going to suggest it, I have also consider a crowd sourced kick-starter type approach.

If there is some investor who is interested in working on this, contact me please. As far as patenting, I believe this is a new thing, but patenting can be expensive. More than I can afford at this time. So don't steal my idea, I challenge you to make your own or build upon mine and give credit where it is due. Respect intellectual property (IP), it is the right thing to do.


I can think of many uses for such a device. At present time it is a device recommended to be worn under a t-shirt and shown through the fabric. Which can be various colors (white, gray, black seem to work well) as long as the thickness doesn't block the light completely.

Also it is important that it be activated, displaying while only in appropriate venues and circumstances with appropriate messages and with concern for safety in distracting of people in dangerous situations where harm thru accident may result. I leave that to your good judgment and take no responsibility for any consequences of your actions in the use of this device and idea, the construction of this device or the injury to yourself or others by faulty batteries or other hardware used in the device and its interactions with other devices not excluding your smart phone (so lawyers be gone, I take no responsibility for any use of this idea or device by anybody or thing).

Some Device Uses

Uses may include, but may not be limited to:

Parties, Raves, Night Clubs, DJs, Bartenders, Entertainment Events.

Conferences, Concerts, Conventions, Sales Booths, Small Vendors for food, goods, sales (outdoors best in lower light situations).

As a Flash Mob for advertising event. (Meaning you get a name brand to pay for manufacturing, send UPS 50-500 units to people in New York and tell them all to show up in Times Square at 8 pm tonight. You then contact news media, etc).

Possible gamification with some kind of social networking interaction, or as a Fashion statement.

By using Velcro it is possible to attach the device to the outsides of Purses, Backpack, Bags, Jackets, etc. (I would then recommend a layer of semi-transparent black negligee fabric between the see-thru vinyl and the display to defuse the brightness of the led's and to hide the electronic display from complete visibility).

As a display equalizer with bars when music is played on the phone or in a loud place the music is picked up by the phone. Also something new called silent disco!

Finally, since this is a device which can "text visually" without the need for speaking, it might (and I say might) be used as a form of communication for persons whom are mute or as a way to entice autistic persons to communicate. Further study would be require to determine if this is feasible and that is outside the scope of this article.

Parts Is Parts?

So let's talk about the electronics used in this device. I have recorded a video showing the innards and their placement.


Adafruit Feather M0 Bluefruit LE

Lithium Ion Polymer Battery - 3.7v 2500mAh

cjmcu-64 ws2812 5050 rgb led  (You'll need 2 of these 8x8 neopixel displays. cheapest prices are on Ebay from China).

Philmore 30-9184 Sub-Miniature Slide Switch, SPDT 3A @125V, ON-ON (I found mine at Fry's Electronics)

OSEPP 3 Pin Jumpers - 10-Pack (Again, I found mine at Fry's Electronics, you don't need but 2 of these...)

Cord Stops


Pellon 72F electronics substrate (don't iron)

Wiring details for feather and displays . . .

Feather Pin Outs

Switch -> interrupts red wire to JST connector on Battery (you'll need to cut red wire and soldier switch in-line on the center pin and only one of the available outer pins. Make sure enough wire length is available to reach JST on feather and for proper placement on poly substrate.
Battery -> Feather JST connector (switch already soldier in-line on red wire. so flipping switch interrupts power to circuit).

Cut 3 pin sensor cable in half, soldier three leads to feather pins below.
NeoPixel matrix DOUT -> Feather D6 (software selectable in code) - white wire, data
NeoPixel matrix 5V -> Feather USB (VBUSS) - red wire
NeoPixel matrix GND -> Feather GND - black wire

you'll want to soldier a connector to the display like so...

finally wire the second display in serial, taking caution to connect properly. see videos for internal layouts.

To detect battery level here is the trick.

Reading the PDF Uber Guide for Neopixels will help as well.

And if you want to build your own feather board . . . GitHUB PCB Files for Adafruit-Feather-M0-Bluefruit-LE.

So there is much more to be explained, however I will be ending this article for now while I build out our team and search for investors.

Again, please contact me if you are interested in helping out! Together we can shape the future of display wearables at the intersection of three industries! Or pass this on to someone. Thanks and have a nice day! ShirtPIXEL prototype Github source code

++++++ some video notes +++++++++

I have some additional video notes for the pocketPIXEL only (not the ShirtPIXEL) below just to be all inclusive and to demonstrate the work I have done on all the prototypes to date. Some of the notes include new ideas, safety observations, and layout specifics too valuable to discard.

Here is the best color table I found for selecting programmable colors on the neopixel matrix. What it doesn't have in resolution, it makes up for in color control!