It’s with sadness that we note the end to an end. The French dance music duo Daft Punk have split up, announced in a video that’s has already clocked 22 million views.The band have inspired hardware geeks across the world not just with their music but the way they present themselves. A perennial project has been to replicate in some way their iconic robot helmets.
The artists themselves have been reticent about the exact technology that powers their headgear, but while this is a source of endless mystery and speculation to the music press it’s safe to assume from our perspective that their designers have the same parts at their disposal as we have. Microcontrollers, EL wire, and LEDs are universal, so the challenge lies in artistic expression with the helmet design rather than in making the effects themselves. We’ve reached into the archives for a bit of Daft Punk helmet nostalgia, so stick on Harder Better Faster and lets take a look at them, er, one more time.
One of the earliest Daft Punk helmets we featured came from
Ben Heck Harrison Krix, a very high quality sculpted Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo model replicated as a resin shell by means of a flexible silicone mould, and given a vacuum-formed visor.
Harrison used very similar techniques to make the helmet itself, but knocked it out of the park with the LED lighting effects to bring the life the closest helmet you could have to a real one without being in the band itself. Not content with just one, he returned a year later with his version of Thomas Bangalter’s headgear.
Advancing Tech Just Makes Them Better And Better
In 2014 Adafruit published a design for a 3D printed Guy-Manuel helmet, which would have paired nicely with Marc’s Thomas helmet whose shell was printed in polycarbonate on a high-quality industrial printer. This one featured iPhone control, and marked a trend of the helmets increasing in technical capabilities as the decade progressed and better components became available. Mike Michelena’s Guy-Manuel helmet from 2016 reached a new height both in physical and technical sophistication with a huge array of features including MIDI control.
Each of the helmets presents its own design challenges, and the Thomas helmet in particular requires an LED array to an exacting specification in a curved plane. This is no easy task to get right and requires some fine soldering skills with a huge pile of discrete LEDs. Nathaniel Stepp showed us how it should be done in the fall of 2018 with some particularly fine workmanship. For mere mortals the job could be done with LED strips, as ElectroNoobs’s much simpler build showed us.
As it has with so many things, the pandemic seems to have claimed everybody’s attention and last year must have pushed partying away from the limelight. Estefannie’s Guy-Manuel helmet was the subject of a talk at the 2019 Superconference, and since then the scene has been quiet. But that’s not quite the end of the story though, because there’s a parallel stream of other helmets that aren’t replicas but maybe owe some inspiration to the French duo. Mocymo’s Smile helmet for example uses an Android tablet for its display and electronics,and ingeniously has a built-in periscope to see past it.
Daft Punk themselves may have disbanded, but that doesn’t mean the story should be over in our community. It’s likely that the time period following the eventual all-clear from this virus will be marked by an outpouring of excess from the party-starved and newly-vaccinated masses, so if you’re a fan then perhaps now is the time to start building.