GE Color Effects hacking for the nautically inclined


[Jim] wrote in to share some work he did with GE Color Effects LED lights in an effort to create a light display for his boat. He saw our coverage of the Color Effects G-35 hacking efforts by DeepDarc last year, and knew that they would be prefect for the boat. He did some careful scouring of eBay to score 8 strings of lights at bargain basement pricing, then he got down to the business of hacking them.

He originally built a control circuit using a single PIC18F, but just before he started to put everything together, he realized that wiring everything up would be a huge undertaking. Going back to the drawing board, he decided it would be best to replace the lights’ stock board with one of his own. Now, he uses a single master controller board to send messages to his slave “pods”, significantly cutting down the amount of wiring required for the project.

The display looks great as you can see in the video below, though as many do, [Jim] has plenty of improvements in mind for the future.


  1. Flokos says:

    Im curious how he managed to make the leds adressable since every string comes fixed in one cord.

    • Jim G says:

      In my implementation, each string is enumerated “as usual” with 50 consecutive addresses. The processor in each individual strings “pod” is assigned one bit of an eight bit mask when I load the software. The display sequence includes commands to write to one or any combination of strings with a single command. There’s a lot more info on my webpage link (clcik my name above).

  2. raidscsi says:

    Fireworks mode is sweet.

  3. M4CGYV3R says:

    It would be cool if we could see how it’s attached to the boat. I’ve seen custom Christmas lights before.

  4. Jim G says:

    The 50 light strings are mounted on 1/4″ black poly rope (secured every third light with a tie-wrap penetrating the woven rope). The “ropes” are then hoisted on the regular halyards (three on the genoa/bow halyard and five on the main halyard) and secured to the deck. Wiring consist of simple extension cords connecting the transformers at the base of each string. The communication from the master is via the same 432Mhz chips that came with them.
    The “sparse” nature of the lights makes it pretty tough to do any really clever things like text or artwork. I need to shorten the tree or get more than 8 strings next year.

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