7 LED’s, 2 Pins – beat that, Charlieplexing

[Tim]’s Dice10 is an exercise in minimalism. Building an electronic dice using an ATtiny10 with code that fits within 1kB is not too difficult. Charlieplexing the LED’s would have used three of the four available GPIO pins. [Tim] upped the game by using just two GPIO pins to drive the seven LED’s for the dice. A third GPIO is used as a touch button input. Besides the ATtiny and the LED’s, the only other component used is a capacitor across the supply inputs.

2 GPIO for 7 LED's
2 GPIO for 7 LED’s

The LED’s are grouped in three pairs of two LED’s and a single centre LED. Usually, Charlieplexed LED’s are connected across pairs of GPIO pins. But his scheme includes connections to the 5V and GND terminals, besides the two GPIO pins. Building a truth table makes it easy to figure out what’s going on.

1     Z   Z   --
2     L   Z   LED 1/2
3     H   Z   LED 3/4
4     Z   L   LED 5/6
5     Z   H   --
6     H   L   LED9
7     L   H   --
8     H   H   --
9     L   L   --

Only the logic states used are listed in the table. It’s possible to add two more LED’s between PB0 and GND and one more anti-parallel with LED9, making a total of 10 LED’s driven by two pins. That’s quite a hack. The important thing here is to have two LED’s in series in the arms that connect to either 5V or GND.

[Tim] has posted  the code and hardware source files on his Github repo, and his blog post has some additional details on how he solved the problem.

If you’re looking for more inspirations on minimal dice designs, check this “PIC powered pair of electronic dice” which uses a PIC 12F629 with five outputs driving a pair of 7 pips to make a dual dice.


If you have a cool project in mind, there is still plenty of time to enter the 1 kB Challenge! Deadline is January 5, so check it out and fire up your assemblers!

Another way to look at Charlieplexing

Charlieplexing is a technique that allows you to drive a larger number of LEDs than wouldn’t be possible with the same number of I/O pins on a traditional multiplexed matrix. If we lost you there just think of it as lots of blinky lights connected to a small number of pins. It works by leveraging the one-way nature of a diode. Current will only flow through an LED in one direction so if you hook up your display in a clever way you can drive multiple LEDs from one I/O by switching the polarity of that pin between voltage and ground. [M.Rule] recently looked at using Charlieplexing with LED modules. His conceptual approach to the problem is different from those we remember seeing before and it’s worth a look.

Instead of just using the formula to calculate how many LEDs he can drive [M.Rule] is using a table of I/O pins to establish how many and in what order these displays can be connected. Each colored set of blocks represents an LED module. The graphic above shows how 18-pin can be utilized. He even filled in the unused pin combinations with input buttons.

Improve charlieplexing performance with interrupts


[Dmitry] was shopping for LEDs and accidentally pulled the trigger on the wrong type. Since he didn’t want to be wasteful, he figured he should at least take the time to build something with them.

A LED matrix display was the obvious project choice, but he only had a PIC16F688 at his disposal. Since the micro controller only has 11 output pins, charlieplexing was the only way he would be able to light the entire matrix.

While testing his LED array, he found charlieplexing to be a bit disappointing. The fact that the LEDs can get relatively dim, depending on the number of units lit at any particular time struck him as annoying.

In order to improve the performance of his charlieplexed array, he first decided to scan through all of the LEDs rather than just those that needed to be lit. This ensured that all of his LEDs had the same 1/110 duty cycle and were always as bright as possible. He also chose to use interrupts when lighting the LEDs. This meant that his code does not need to take into consideration any specific timing requirements to maintain persistence of vision. He also double-buffers the display to help reduce flicker.

He says that he ran into certain constraints with the PIC chip he chose, so he used a handful of lookup tables to ensure smooth operation of his display. He was quite satisfied with the results, and we think that the interrupt-driven display looks like it works just fine from where we’re standing as well.

Be sure to stick around for a quick video explaining and demonstrating his single-chip LED matrix.

Continue reading “Improve charlieplexing performance with interrupts”

Intro to charlieplexing


[sixerdoodle] sent us this nice firefly project that serves as an intro to charlieplexing. We’ve mentioned charlieplexing before, in our LED Life post and the Breath Controlled LED candles post. This project is quite simple and focues mainly on how to make a charlieplexed circuit work.

The goal was to create a tiny firefly bottle with SMD LEDs and as few wires as possible. In the video, after the break, it is hard to tell just how small this thing is until we see the battery. There are clear directions and fantastic pictures detailing exactly how to set up a charlieplexed circuit with 6 LEDs.

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LED Life and Charlieplexing

Yesterday, we featured [Andrew]’s orientation aware camera. We want to highlight another one of his projects: LED Life. It’s a 6×5 LED matrix playing Conway’s Game of Life. He used the low power MSP430 like our e-paper clock. The best part of the writeup is his explanation of how Charlieplexing works. Microcontroller GPIO pins generally have three possible states: output high, output low, and input. This combined with the directional nature LEDs and some creative wiring means you can run a large matrix of individually addressable LEDs with just a few IO pins. Instead of just flipping the IO pins on and off you change their assigned state. Have a look at [Andrew]’s site for some great illustrations of how the system works. A video of his LED Life board is embedded below. Continue reading “LED Life and Charlieplexing”

New Method for Measuring Lots of Resistors Using Very Few Wires

[Daqq] is back at it again with the linear algebra, and he’s now come up with a method for determining the resistance of lots of resistors using little of wires and loads of math.

Like any reasonable person, [daqq] decided it would be fun to “solve one of those nasty [electrical engineering] puzzles/exercises where you start out with a horrible mess of wires and resistors and you are supposed to calculate the resistance between two nodes.” You know, just an average Saturday night. At the time, he was also fascinated by Charlieplexing – an awesome technique that either allows one to control multiple polarized components, such as LEDs, simply by connecting them in a specific way. After toying with the idea for a while, [daqq] found that using just Charlieplexing would be“a horrible mess” but he didn’t stop there. Drawing inspiration from Charlieplexing, he came up with the idea to connect things in such a way that every node is connected by one connection to every other node – a complete graph from a topological view point (this makes so much more sense visually). From here, he was able to set pins to HIGH, LOW, or INPUT and gather all the data needed to solve his linear system of equations.

Now, there is a balance to everything, and while this system can determine the resistance of .5*N(N-1) resistors using just N wires, it also a memory and computation hungry method. Oh well, can’t have it all. But, while it’s computationally hungry, [daqq] got it working on an ATMega32, so it’s not an unmanageable feat. And, let’s not forget to mention [daqq’s] wonderful writing. Even if you don’t know linear algebra (or would rather forget), it’s a good read from a theory perspective. So good, in fact, that [daqq] is getting published in Circuit Cellar!

We love to see theory in the hacker world, so keep it coming! But, while we wait (wink wink), there’s always time to review the basic Hacker Calculus and check out our past math-related articles.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Micro Matrix Charlieplexed Displays

If you need a very thin, low power display that doesn’t use a whole bunch of pins on your microcontroller, [bobricius] has just the thing for you. His entry to the Hackaday Prize this year is a Charlieplexed LED display. With this board, you can drive 110 LEDs using only 11 GPIO pins.

Charlieplexing is a bit of a dark art around these parts. That’s not to say the theory is difficult; it’s really just sourcing or sinking current from a GPIO pin and arranging LEDs unparallel to each other. The theory is one thing, implementation is another. To build a Charlieplexed LED matrix, you need to go a bit crazy with the PCB layout, and god help you if you’re doing this point-to-point on a perf board.

Somehow, [bobricius] managed to fit 110 LEDs on a PCB, all while managing to break out those signal wires to a sensible set of pads on one side of the board. Only eleven pins are required to drive all these LEDs, making this project a great foundation for some very cool wearables or other projects that require a bright, low-res display.

Since [bobricius] can put 110 LEDs on a small board, he can obviously take LEDs away from that board. That’s what he did with his cut down version designed to be a clock. Both are great little boards, and the perfect solution for tiny displays for low-pin-count micros.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Micro Matrix Charlieplexed Displays”