Cool Effects Light Shirt

Written by Camille Dodson


Leah Buechley and Nwanua Elumeze have recently developed a light-shirt that plays the ‘game of life’ with cool blinking patterns. The lights come on and animate vibrantly, captured by me on video1 & 2 . The shirt also has an button for interacting with the lights, adding a blinker to the center of the shirt’s grid to change the animating automata.

At a recent demoing session I attended, people gathered around Leah to watch the show and learn about the development of this cyber-fashion wear. After viewers had played with the display for a bit, Nwanua pulled out his pda, revealing the wireless programming capabilities of the shirt. Users were excited to draw new patterns and watch ‘life’ grow and change.

Behind the Scenes Look at this Magical Garment

Leah has sewn 140 LEDs onto the shirt in a tight grid pattern, using a needle and conductive thread. Each row connects back to the AVR Microcontroller that runs the show. Coded with the language C, this computer chip performs the rules of life and updates the display. If you want to learn how to make your own fabric based light-grid, Leah has full instructions on her site –


Nwanua joined in on the project by adding more interactivity with his drawing device. He created software for his PDA (Palm Zire) that interfaces with the user and the shirt. Infrared light transmits the data, one bit at a time, to the shirt’s reciever. He wrote his part in C with help from prc-tools, a free-to-use communication protocol that lets the PDA’s infrared port talk to the crystal-less, funky-time clock in the reciever.

A shoutout to Mike Eisenberg, the Computer Science Professor at CU who runs this Craft Technology Lab and acts as advisor to these young graduate students. The goal of this research lab is to create new craft techniques that incorporate high-tech devices. And with that, there’s hope that teachers can educate men and women equally, in the art of engineering and mathematics.

University of Colorado at Boulder, USA