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Image credit: Daniel Cooper

LED screen shows happy thoughts in your rear window

Don't even think about using swear words or a middle finger emoji, it'll only share positive messages.
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Daniel Cooper

When I commuted by car every day, I always wanted to build an LED display that would communicate my displeasure with my fellow motorists. My lack of engineering know-how put paid to the idea, but thankfully someone has turned the idea into a product, albeit with a focus on the niceties. CarWink is the brainchild of Wei Cheng Chou, a Taiwanese electrical engineer who studied at California's exclusive ArtCenter College of Design. It's a little display that tells other motorists you're full of love rather than, say, where to stick their genitalia.

Commuting in California was a troubling experience, and he wanted to find a way to express his frustration in a more constructive way. "Japanese culture," Chou explained, "shows you how to be polite," joking that it's necessary, because "everyone in the US has a gun!." Rather than the essay-length screen in my own fever dreams, CarWink has a round, five-inch display packing 480 LEDs over a solar panel. You can also recharge it over microUSB, but the hope is that you'll use it sparingly, so the sun can keep the battery topped up.

CarWink displays pixel art emojis, like that of a pedestrian crossing the street, a winking cat face or a love heart. You can even spell out certain words, like Thanks, Need Help or Slow Down, all of which Chou says can be seen up to two cars' distance behind you. He was inspired by "Nintendo games and Tamagotchi," which helped him design art that was cute and inoffensive. It will initially be able to display 50 images, with users able to submit more for their own use.

SONY DSC

Before I could ask, however, Chou added that he has to "check each one," and will block anything too offensive or provocative. And it appears that, even before he has shipped the models for his Kickstarter, he has already received a number of requests for a middle finger symbol. Activating these pleasant messages will be down to your phone, which will connect to the device via Bluetooth. It's expected that, as well as a series of easy-to-push buttons on the app, users will be able to command messages using their voice.

If there's one thing to be said for CarWink, it's that it's pretty chunky and it might be too big for some smaller cars to handle. Not to mention that if you're spending your time looking at your phone for the right emoji, you might not be devoting all of your time to the road. Given the campaigns to get people not to play with their phones while driving, a device like this has a slightly counter-productive edge. That said, its message of positivity can't be criticized, especially since we could all do with being nicer on the roads.

After meeting its Kickstarter goal, CarWink went onto Indiegogo, where users can pick up a unit for an early bird price of $92. After that point, the hardware will cost $120, and deliveries are expected to begin in the second half of the year.

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