Laser Projected Christmas Lights

 

laser-christmas-lights

It’s August, and of course that means that it’s time for retail stores to put up their Christmas decorations! But seriously, if you’re going to do better than the neighbors you need to start now. [Joey] already has his early start on the decorations, with a house-sized light show using LED strips and a laser projector that he built last Christmas.

What started off as a thought that it would be nice to hang a wreath over the garage soon turned into a laser projector that shows holiday-themed animations on the front of the house. The project also includes a few RGB LED strips which can match the colors displayed by the projector. The LEDs are powered from a custom-built supply that is controlled by a laptop, and the program that runs on the computer averages the colors from the video signal going to the projector which lights up the LED strips to match the projected image. This creates an interesting effect similar to some projects that feature home theater ambient lighting.

The only major problem [Joey] came across was having to account for the lasers’ motion in the projected patterns, which was causing the computer to read false values. This and a few other laser-related quirks were taken care of with a bit of programming to make sure the system was functioning properly. After that it was a simple matter of attaching the projector to the roof and zip-tying the LED strips to the eaves of the house.

The projector is weatherproof, has survived one harsh winter already, and can be up and running for any holiday. With Halloween right around the corner, this could be a great way to spice up some trick-or-treating. Check out the video after the break to see this setup in action.

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Companion Cube Christmas Lights Improved With Neopixels

cubes

[Crenn] obtained a string of official companion cube lights from Valve, but being in Australia couldn’t put them to their non-judgemental glory without the use of a step down transformer. They sat on the workbench for a few months until an idea was hatched: replace the bulbs with an Adafruit Neopixel strip, making these wonderful inanimate friends a string of individually addressable RGB LEDs.

The process of converting these cubes required stuffing a very small 9.4mm PCB inside. This PCB was designed in KiCAD thanks to a few classes at the Melbourne hackerspace. The board files were sent off, PCBs received, soldered up, and stuffed into the cubes.

Control is via a Duemilanove with a single IO pin using the Neopixel library. All the code, board files, and schematics are available on the gits. Future improvements might include a 3D printed cable relief and a way to securely mount the PCBs to the inside of the cubes.

Video available below.

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Christmas Tweetball

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The holidays are long over, but we’re still getting a smattering of holiday themed hacks. For this one, the [Han's] family decided to make a Christmas bauble that relays their tweets to them!

They call it the Tweetbal which is Dutch for — well — Tweetball! Whenever someone tweets with the hashtag #tweetbal it gets displayed on the 20×4 serial LCD display. They’re using an Arduino Uno with an RN-XV WiFly module to receive and send the tweets to the display. A large white plastic ornament ball houses it all secured very firmly with our favorite adhesion method — duct tape. It’s a pretty simple project, but a great holiday hack if we do say so ourselves — plus it could be easily used for non-holiday purposes — like a desktop trinket twitter feed!

Stick around after the break to see its tweeting capabilities in action.

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Controlling Cheap, Awesome Christmas Lights

LEDs

[James] was wandering around Walgreens after Christmas and found something very interesting – RGB LED Christmas lights that were individually addressable. At $6.50 for a strand of 15 lights, he just had to buy a few and figure out the control protocol. After all, who can turn down a big, cheap, controllable RGB LED strip?

The packaging for these lights – apparently manufactured by BriteStar – includes a ‘try me’ button that cycles through different light patterns. This button is what initially tipped [James] off to the fact the lights on this strand could be individually controllable. Opening up one of the lights, he found exactly what he wanted: an epoxy blob, two wires for power, and three wires for the signaling.

After checking out this light with a scope and logic analyzer, [James] realized there was a very, very simple protocol going on. Essentially, the entire string functioned as a gigantic shift register, taking the values for one light and pushing it down the string. In looking at the protocol, [James] also discovered] these lights support 16 levels of brightness. Yep, RGB LED Christmas Lights with PWM for under $7. Can’t beat that.

[James] wrote an Arduino library to control these strings and put it up on Github. While your local Walgreens has probably already hidden these lights away in the back of the store, it might be worth asking around to see if they have any left.

Hacking a Christmas Tree for Less Blinkyness

Hacking a Christmas Tree to Blink Slower

What good is a fiber optic self-lighting Christmas tree if it flashes so fast it will put you into an epileptic attack? The answer is “Not very good”, if you ask [Mads Nielsen] a.k.a [EcProjects]. So [EcProjects ] started a little project to slow the Christmas tree’s blinkyness down to a more reasonable rate. The task didn’t seem too difficult at first but turned into a quality tutorial building a variable frequency H-bridge motor control.

After opening the base of the tree [EcProjects] found a 12 volt AC geared synchronous motor turning a multi colored translucent plastic disk. A bright spotlight was shining upwards through the turning disk into the ends of hundreds of small fiber optics. This mechanism dumps loads of multi colored light out the ends of the fibers at the tips of the Christmas tree branches as the disk turns.

His goal was to slow down the motor; however, the rotation was based on the 50 Hz mains signal. In order to continue using this motor a lower frequency AC power source was needed. What follows in the video is an excellent lesson on how an AC synchronous motor works plus how to build a variable frequency control and H-bridge using some transistors, resistors and CMOS 4069 inverter chip.

In the end the frequency drive could only be lowered to about 30 Hz before the synchronous motor would stall and reverse using his design. [EcProjects] was bold enough to include several fails which always provides more opportunity for learning and is greatly appreciated.

If you believe you have a better solution please share your idea in the comments. I’m sure the first proposal will include an Arduino and servo modified for continuous rotation, but any solutions would be fascinating including modifications to his design. You can join us after the break to watch the video.

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Christmas Tree Analyzes Your Tweets

christmas twitter lights

It’s Christmas time. You have a string of 50 individually addressable RGB LEDs, what would you do? Well, [Barney] decided to try something different. He’s made a Christmas tree that reflects Twitter’s current sentiments about the holiday.

Wait, what? We admit, it’s a kind of weird concept, but the software behind it is pretty cool. As it turns out Stanford University’s Natural Language Processing Group released the source code for their sentiment analyzer. Unlike a normal sentiment analyzer which assigns points to positive words and negative points for negative words, this one actually uses a deep learning model which builds up a representation of entire sentences based on their structure — only problem? It was designed and trained to analyze movie reviews, not Christmas tweets.

Regardless, it still does the trick (kind of), but, it’s pretty slow. [Barney] has his fastest computer running four instances of the analyzer, which pulls Christmas tweets that have been sorted by the Twitter API — it then analyzes them, assigns the sentiment, and places them in a second queue. He’s using beanstalkd for the queuing and a Raspberry Pi to control the lights. The result is a pretty light display whose colors represent the sentiments of incoming tweets — it’s hard to say if it’s actually successful in reflecting the opinion of the tweets, but it’s a pretty cool concept.

Stick around after the break to see the Christmas Tweet Analyzing Tree in action — say that 5 times fast!

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CartoLucci: A Candle-Powered Christmas Card

cartoLucci

If you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas present, you probably won’t have enough time to reproduce [Helmar's] candle-powered Christmas card. He’s been working on it for a few years now, since his first prototype in 2010. Though he pieced together the original card with parts lying around his workshop, the most recent iteration looks like it belongs on the shelf in a store.

We last saw [Helmar's] work two years ago, when he shared his Full Color Laser TV. This project is a bit more compact: the circuitry was printed with conductive ink on the cardstock, and all the required components are held together by conductive adhesive. To power the electronics, he decided against a battery and instead chose to embed a solar cell on the inside of the card. Placing a lit candle inside the open card provides enough juice for the exterior of the card to shine.

You can see a video of both the current and prototype versions of [Helmar's] cards after the break.

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