As Abraham Karplus explained the technology and development behind Kinetics–his new motion-reactive light gloves, members of University of California, Santa Barbara’s gloving club, Ambience, passed them around a circle for a test run. The dark room was aglow with complicated displays created with the gloves, which contain bright LED lights in the fingertips. Karplus’ gloves are unique in the industry thanks to an accelerometer that allows each light to change color and speed in response to movement.
Ambience member Kevin Duong, a third-year biology major, explained gloving as “an art form” in which the glover puts on a light show by moving their fingers and hands in different configurations. “At this point, I would consider it a dance just because so many different dancers have taken up gloving,” Duong said.
Karplus, a first-year computer science major in UCSB’s College of Creative Studies, further explained the capacity of Kinetics, which contain a circuit board, batteries, and an LED in each fingertip.
The gloves are capable of several “different modes,” he said. “The first one’s called ‘kinetic mode,’ that changes color as you move faster. Geomode is angle based, and then…multimode starts as a strobe and adds colors as you move faster.”
Other gloves on the market are only capable of set patterns and colors, which makes Karplus’ new gloves very appealing to glovers looking for something new.
These innovative features are what helped Karplus and his team raise $30,000 on Kickstarter for their idea in under 30 minutes. With a reflective smile, he recalled that when predicting how much money they would raise on the first day, he threw out “$5,000” and his group members said, “no, that’s too optimistic—maybe we’ll raise $2,000.” Now their company has raised around $60,000 through Kickstarter alone. They plan on ordering 1,000 pairs in the near future, first distributing 350 pairs on Kickstarter and then selling the rest.
The idea was conceived when a year and a half ago, Karplus was approached by his friend Zohan Wouk to create a company that produced light gloves while the two were still in eleventh grade. Wouk is the founder and CEO of the company, called Futuristic Lights, and Karplus is the CTO. Karplus cited his father, Kevin Karplus, a professor at UC Santa Cruz, as “our main resource outside of the company.” Karplus helped his son with the relevant electronics to create the new glove technology.
Members of the Ambience club had many questions for Karplus about the new gloves. The president of the club, Andy Park, a fourth-year biopsychology major, noted that “there’s been a whole debate about these lights already on all the forums and Facebook groups… in my opinion it has a lot of potential to really expand upon the art form.”
Members were especially impressed with the clear bulb, sandbox mode, and dimming features.
Duong, who gloves under the name of Koi, admitted that “at first I was a little worried about speed because when you glove you don’t want to go too fast and they have an accelerometer in them which gauges your speed. But working with them now, they’re fantastic… a game changer because all the lights prior haven’t had any dynamic modes”
Another member of the club almost dropped one of the bulbs that Karplus had out for display. They handed it back to him gingerly and asked about their strength.
“I know people are concerned [about strength],” Karplus said. “‘Oh, there’s an accelerometer; they must be really fragile!’”
As a demonstration, Karplus proceeded to lift the light above his head and throw it full speed at the ground. He picked the light back up and it was glowing as brightly as ever.
When asked how final this prototype was, Karplus explained that “we aren’t planning on doing anything that’s as featureful as the Kinetic for probably a few years.” However, he also shared that next they would be “targeting people that don’t feel that they can afford the Kinetic next with some stuff that’s probably not motion reactive but otherwise futuristic.”
Karplus shared, “if this does turn out to be a viable company, it would be kind of cool to keep this as my job.”
As demonstrated by the excitement from members of Ambience and the supporters on Kickstarter, many are enthusiastic that this will in fact be a viable product. After Karplus finished demonstrating and explaining the gloves, Ambience members took turns giving Karplus a personal light show.
One minor correction: It is somewhat misleading to say I “helped [Abe] with the relevant electronics”. Although I taught Abe electronics and gave him occasional pointers, the design is entirely his—both hardware and software. He did a lot of on-line research, learning about microprocessors, accelerometers, digital systems design, power regulators, prototyping companies, PC board design, parts sourcing, fulfillment services, packaging, … . Basically, he spent about 20 hours a week for a full year learning and designing.
My role was more akin to that of a faculty mentor—asking questions, suggesting where there might be unanticipated problems, pushing him to consider alternatives and not settle for the first solution to a problem that occurred to him.
Needless to say, I’m quite proud of what he has managed to accomplish, and I look forward to what he’ll do—both with the company and as a UCSB student.
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