Hackaday Prize Entry: 10 Watt Individually Addressable RGB LEDs

Individually addressable RGB LEDs like Neopixels, WS2812s, and  WS2811s are the defacto standard for making blinkey glowey projects. To build a very bright display, you need a lot of them, relegating very bright RGB displays to those of us who can afford the hardware and figure out how to drive that many LEDs. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [AJ Reynolds] is cranking these tiny RGB LEDs up a notch by building an individually addressable 10 Watt RGB floodlight.

Instead of building an RGB LED floodlight from scratch, [AJ] is leveraging the most mediocre of what China has to offer. He found 10 Watt RGBs for a dollar a piece and a few floodlight cases that cost about $5 a piece. By dispensing with the white LED in the floodlight case and replacing it with a 10 Watt RGB LED and some custom circuitry, [AJ] can build a powerful RGB floodlight with a BOM cost of under $15.

While there are big RGB floodlights out there, controlling them either means a custom proprietary protocol or messing around with DMX. A floodlight that speaks the same language as a WS2811 leverages an enormous amount of work from the world of Arduino and a lot of projects from around the Internet, making this a great entry for really bright blinkies and an excellent entry for The Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Learning From Transparent Microchips

Microchips and integrated circuits are usually treated as black boxes; a signal goes in, and a signal goes out, and everything between those two events can be predicted and accurately modeled from a datasheet. Of course, the reality is much more complex, as any picture of a decapped IC will tell you.

[Jim Conner] got his hands on a set of four ‘teaching’ microchips made by Motorola in 1992 that elucidates the complexities of integrated circuitry perfectly: instead of being clad in opaque epoxy, these chips are encased in transparent plastic.

The four transparent chips are beautiful works of engineering art, with the chip carriers, the bond wires, and the tiny square of silicon all visible to the naked eye. The educational set covers everything from resistors, n-channel and p-channel MOSFETS, diodes, and a ring oscillator circuit.

[Jim] has the chips and the datasheets, but doesn’t have the teaching materials and lab books that also came as a kit. In lieu of proper pedagogical technique, [Jim] ended up doing what any of us would: looking at it with a microscope and poking it with a multimeter and oscilloscope.

While the video below only goes over the first chip packed full of resistors, there are some interesting tidbits. One of the last experiments for this chip includes a hall effect sensor, in this case just a large, square resistor with multiple contacts around the perimeter. When a magnetic field is applied, some of the electrons are deflected, and with a careful experimental setup this magnetic field can be detected on an oscilloscope.

[Jim]’s video is a wonderful introduction to the black box of integrated circuits, but the existence of clear ICs leaves us wondering why these aren’t being made now. It’s too much to ask for Motorola to do a new run of these extremely educational chips, but why these chips are relegated to a closet in an engineering lab or the rare eBay auction is anyone’s guess.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Emoticon Keyboard

The Internet is raising an entire generation that can speak entirely in emoticons. This reverses the six thousand year old evolution of written language and makes us (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻. It is, however, fun. There is a problem with these newfangled emoticons: no one actually types them; they’re all copied and pasted. This is inefficient, and once again technology is here to save us once again.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Duncan] is working on an EmojiPad. It’s a (mechanical!) keyboard for typing emoticons, but it can also be used for gaming, CAD design, or as a USB MIDI device.

The keyboard uses 16 Cherry MX switches in a standard diode matrix configuration. This is a USB keyboard, and for the controller, [Duncan] is using an ATMega328 with the V-USB library This is all well-worn territory for the mechanical keyboard crowd, so to spice things up, [Duncan] is going to add individually addressable LEDs underneath each keycap. The ATMega328 doesn’t have enough pins to do this the normal way, so all the LEDs will be Charlieplexed.

A keyboard for emoticons demands custom keycaps, but [Duncan] is having a hard time finding a good solution. Right now he’s planning on using blank keycaps with vinyl decals, a somewhat expensive option at $1 USD a keycap. A better, even more expensive option exists, but for something as ephemeral as an emoticon keyboard a sticker will do just fine.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

An Internet Speedometer With A Dekatron

[Sprite_tm], like most of us, is fascinated with the earlier ways of counting and controlling electrons. At a hacker convention, he found an old Dekatron tube hooked up to a simple spinner circuit. The prescription for this neon infatuation was to build something with a Dekatron, but making another spinner circuit would be a shame. Instead, he decided to do something useful and ended up building an Internet Speedometer with this vintage display tube.

Like all antique tubes, the Dekatron requires about 400V to glow. After a bit of Googling, [Sprite] found a project that drives a Dekatron with an AVR with the help of a boost converter. Borrowing the idea of controlling a boost converter with a microcontroller, [Sprite] built a circuit with the Internet’s favorite Internet of Things thing – the ESP8266 – that requires only a 12 volt wall wart and a handful of parts.

Controlling the rotating glow of a Dekatron is only half of the build; this device is an Internet speedometer, too. To read out his Internet speed, [Sprite] is using a managed switch that allows SNMP to read the number of incoming and outgoing octets on a network interface. By writing a simple SNMP client for the ESP8266, the device can read how clogged the Intertubes are, both incoming and outgoing.

With an acrylic case fresh out of the laser cutter and a remarkably good job at bending acrylic with a heat gun, [Sprite] has a tiny device that tells him how much Internet he’s currently using. He has a video of it running a speedtest, you can check that video out below.

Continue reading “An Internet Speedometer With A Dekatron”

Hackaday Prize Entry: SnapVCC

While it’s the easiest way to lay out a simple circuit for prototyping, breadboards are a pain. They are the ultimate kludge; they work well enough, but no one will ever say that a solderless breadboard is the most elegant solution.

[Mahesh] isn’t completely fixing the problems of solderless breadboards, but he has come up with a better way to supply power to breadboards. It’s a project called snapVCC, and it turns a 9 volt battery into a regulated 3.3 or 5 volt supply.

The idea behind snapVCC is simple enough; just add a circuit board to the top of a nine volt and add a voltage regulator. [Mahesh] is using an LM317 adjustable regulator, with a switch to change the output voltage from 3.3 to 5 volts. An LED indicates the output active, and another switch disconnects the battery from the circuit. Yes, it’s very simple and very useful, confounding everyone who is wondering why this project didn’t already exist.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Review: Single Board 65C02 and 65C816 Computers

The 6502 is a classic piece of computing history. Versions of this CPU were found in everything from the Apple ][, to the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Commodore 64. The history of the 6502 doesn’t end with video games; for the last forty years, this CPU has found its way into industrial equipment, medical devices, and everything else that doesn’t need to be redesigned every two years. Combine the longevity of the 6502 with the fact an entire generation of developers first cut their teeth on 6502 assembly, and you have the makings of a classic microprocessor that will, I’m sure, still be relevant in another forty years.

The cathedral of The 6502 is Western Design Center. For more than 35 years, WDC has been the home of 6502-related designs. Recently, WDC has been interested in the educational aspects of the 6502, with one of the VPs, [David Cramer], lending his time to an after-school club teaching opcodes.

The folks at WDC recently contacted me to see if I would give their hardware a close look, and after providing a few boards, this hardware proved to be both excellent. They’re great for educators adventurous enough to deviate from the Arduino, Processing, and Fritzing zeitgeist, and for anyone who wants to dip their toes into the world of 65xx development.

Continue reading “Review: Single Board 65C02 and 65C816 Computers”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Wearable Robotics Toolkit

The Internet overflows with prosthetics projects, and to a large extent this is somewhat understandable. Prosthetic devices are ultimately a custom made for each user, and 3D printers are trying to find a purpose. Put two and two together, and you’re going to get a few plastic limbs.

The electronics required for advanced prosthetics are a bit harder than a 3D scanner and a printer. If you’re designing a robotic leg, you will need to pump several hundred watts through an actuator to move a human forward. For the last few years, [Jean-François Duval] has been working on this problem at the MIT Media Lab Biomechatronics group and has come up with his entry for the Hackaday Prize. It’s a motor and motor control system for wearable robotics that addresses the problems no other project has thought of yet.

The goal of the FlexSEA isn’t to build prosthetics and wearable robotics – the goal is to build the electronics that drive these wearables. This means doing everything from driving motors, regulating power consumption, running control loops, and communicating with sensors. To accomplish this, [Jean-François] is using the BeagleBone Black, a Cypress PSoC, and an STM32F4, all very capable bits of hardware.

So far, [Jean-François] has documented the hardware and the software for the current controller, and has a few demo videos of his hardware in action. You can check that out below.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Wearable Robotics Toolkit”