Sunday, September 29, 2013

Daft Punk Helmets: Intro

Halloween approaches, which means it's time to spend far too much of my free time working on a costume. Last year, I used my costume as an opportunity to refresh myself on basic electronics and get up to speed on Arduinos. I was pleased with the results, but was very much limited at the time by what I knew. Now I've had a whole year to experiment with embedded electronics, so I figure it's time to apply myself a bit more and see what happens.

During this last year, Daft Punk released their new album Random Access Memories. In case you don't know, Daft Punk is a French electronic music duo consisting of two robots that are sometimes erroneously referred to as men. They look like this:

Their heads contain all kinds of electronic goodies, most of which control LEDs that light up beneath the visors. The one on the left (which I will refer to as Thomas) has a 2D matrix of red LEDs that can display patterns or words that scroll across the visor. The one on the right (Guy) has a few horizontal strips of colored LEDs going up each side of the visor. Over the years, there have been a few iterations of the robot-heads that have shown different amounts of LED activity, but what I have described seems to be the most recognized set of lights.

My goal this Halloween is to make helmet versions of both of these robot heads. Each will contain embedded electronics to recreate the LED patterns that make them identifiable.

The first big challenge I see in this project is the creation of the non-electronically-enhanced helmets. Luckily, there is a fairly evolved online community of folks who are similarly interested in mimicking the looks of these fashionable robots. A common practice for creating props like these that I will use is to start with a papercraft model, reinforce it with fiberglass, cover with Bondo, then fine-tune the shape through sanding. This creates a hard helmet that can later be painted. To create the semi-transparent visors, I plan on replacing the fiberglass/Bondo visors with clear acrylic molded into the right shape.

Once the helmets are forged, the electronics must be added. Both need LEDs, control electronics, and power. Since I anticipate the helmets impeding vocal communication (I assume the robots communicate via wifi instead), I'm interested in implementing some kind of 2-way communication between the helmets.

In all, this is the intended order of operations:
1 - Create full-size paper helmets (post)
2 - Reinforce helmets with fiberglass
3 - Shape helmet exterior with Bondo
4 - Paint helmets
5 - Replace solid visors with acrylic visors (post)
6 - Install lights and control electronics
7 - (Optional) Install 2-way communication
8 - (Optional) Tack on any other neat electronic components I have sitting around.

Taken one step at a time, I think this is a completely doable project, given a few weeks to complete. I will post updates to this project as I complete the steps listed above (assuming plans don't change, which they always do).