Soldering Challenge To Challenge You

[Rick] knew that the blinking, beeping microcontroller kits that are commonly used for educational soldering workshops just would not cut it for a serious combat among SMD reworking professionals. The “Soldering Challenge” he created to fill this gap is a little PCB with eight difficulty levels from large through hole components to the smallest hand solderable SMDs. After assembly, the circuit assesses the skill level of the soldering aspirant based on a built-in scoring system.

soldering_challenge_ongoingThe challenge is meant to be played on a time limit. There are no two same-sized components of different value, so contestants may focus on soldering fast. Little rubber pads on the backside of the board provide for good ground contact in the curves. After the starting signal, you will be confronted with a few through hole resistors, a capacitor, different LEDs and a DIP-8 IC. Here it’s all about the speed and efficiency as you tackle a track full of bends and cut-off resistor legs. Over the course of the challenge, the components get smaller and smaller, until you finally reach the 0603 level, with a tiny SC-85 MOS-FET and a TSSOP 555 timer at the finishing line.
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FPGA Powers Blazingly Fast LED Matrix Audio Visualizer

[Sam Miller], [Sahil Gupta], and [Mashrur Mohiuddin] worked together on a very fast LED matrix display for their final project in ECE 5760 at Cornell University.

Real time!
Real time!

They started, as any good engineering students, by finding a way to make their lives easier. [Sam] had built a 32×32 LED matrix for another class. So, they made three more and ended up with a larger and more impressive 64×64 LED display.

They claim their motivation was the love of music, but we have a suspicion that the true reason was the love all EEs share for unnaturally bright LEDs; just look at any appliance at night and try not be blinded.

The brains of the display is an Altera DE2-115 FPGA board. The code is all pure Verilog. The FFT and LED control are implemented in hardware on the FPGA; none of that Altera core stuff. To generate images and patterns they wrote a series of python scripts. But for us it’s the particle test shown in the video below that really turns our head. This system is capable of tracking and reacting to a lot of different elements on the fly why scanning the display at about 310 FPS. They have tested display scanning at twice that speed but some screen-wrap artifacts need to be worked out before that’s ready for prime time.

The team has promised to upload all the code to GitHub, but it will likely be a while before the success hangover blows over and they can approach the project again. You can view a video interview and samples of the visualizations in the videos after the break.

Thanks to their Professor, [Bruce Land], for submitting the tip! His students are always doing cool things. You can even watch some of his excellent courses online if you like: Here’s one on the AVR micro-controller.

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Tiny Tiny RGB LED Displays

Hackaday.io contributor extraordinaire [al1] has been playing around with small LEDs a lot lately, which inevitably leads to playing around with large groups of small LEDs. Matrixes of tiny RGB LEDs, to be precise.

Where's the LED?
Where’s the LED?

First, he took 128 0404 SMD RGB LEDs (yes, 40 thousandths of an inch on each side) and crammed them onto a board that’s just under 37 mm x 24 mm. He calls the project 384:LED (after all, each of those 128 packages has three diodes inside). A microcontroller and the driver chips are located on a separate driver board, which piggy-backs via pin headers to the LED board. Of course, he had to use 0.05 inch headers, because this thing is really small.

Of course, no project is without its hitches. [al1] bought LEDs with the wrong footprint by mistake, so he had a bunch of (subtly different) 0404 LEDs left over. Time for an 8×8 matrix! 192:LED isn’t just the first project cut in half, though. It’s a complete re-design with a four-layer board and the microcontroller on the back-side. And as befits a scrounge project with lots of extreme soldering, he even pulled the microcontroller off of a cheap digital FM radio. Kudos!

We’re in awe of [al1]’s tiny, tiny hacking skills. Now it’s time to get some equally cool graphics up on those little displays.

540 LEDs On A Geodesic Sphere

[burgerga] loves attending Music Festivals. He’s also a MechE who loves his LED’s. He figured he needed to put it all together and do something insane, so he build a huge, 15″ geodesic sphere containing 540 WS2812B addressable LED’s. He calls it the SOL CRUSHER. It sips 150W when all LED’s are at full intensity, making it very, very, bright.

As with most WS2812B based projects, this one too is fairly straightforward, electrically. It’s controlled by four Teensy 3.2 boards mounted on Octo WS2811 adapter boards. Four 10,000 mAh 22.2V LiPo batteries provide power, which is routed through a 5V, 30Amp heatsinked DC-DC converter. To protect his LiPo batteries from over discharge, he built four voltage monitoring modules. Each had a TC54 voltage detector and an N-channel MOSFET which switches off the LiPo before its voltage dips below 3V. He bundled in a fuse and an indicator, and put each one in a neat 3D printed enclosure.

The mechanical design is pretty polished. Each of the 180 basic modules is a triangular PCB with three WS2812B’s, filter capacitors, and heavy copper pours for power connections. The PCB’s are assembled in panels of six and five units each, which are then put together in two hemispheres to form the whole sphere. His first round of six prototypes set him back as he made a mistake in the LED footprint. But it still let him check out the assembly and power connections. For mechanical support, he designed an internal skeleton that could be 3D printed. There’s a mounting frame for each of the PCB panels and a two piece central sphere. Fibreglass rods connect the central sphere to each of the PCB panels. This lets the whole assembly be split in to two halves easily.

It took him over six months and lots of cash to complete the project. But the assembly is all done now and electrically tested. Next up, he’s working on software to add animations. He’s received suggestions to add sensors such as microphones and accelerometers via comments on Reddit. If you’d like to help him by contributing animation suggestions, he’s setup a Readme document on Dropbox, and a Submission form. Checkout the SolCrusher website for more information.

Thanks [Vinny Cordeiro], for letting us know about this build.

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Using WS2811 Chip to Drive Incandescent Lamps

What makes the WS2812-style individually addressable pixel LEDs so inviting? Their rich colors? Nope, you can get RGB LEDs anywhere. Their form factor? Nope. Even surface-mount RGBs are plentiful and cheap. The answer: it’s the integrated controller. It’s just so handy to speak an SPI-like protocol to your LEDs — it separates the power supply from the data, and you can chain them to your heart’s desire. Combine this controller and the LEDs together in a single package and you’ve got a runaway product success.

But before the WS2812, there was the WS2811 — a standalone RGB controller IC. With the WS2812s on the market, nobody wants the lowly WS2811’s anymore. Nobody except [Michael Krumpus], that is. You see, he likes the old-school glow of incandescent, but likes the way the WS2812 strings are easy to drive and extend. So he bought a bag of WS2811s and put the two together.

The controller IC can’t handle the current that an incandescent bulb requires, so he added a MOSFET to do the heavy lifting. After linking a few of these units together, he discovered (as one does with the LED-based WS2812s eventually) that the switching transients can pull down the power lines, so there is a beefy capacitor accompanying each bulb.

He wanted each bulb to be independently addressable, so he only used the blue line of the RGB controller, which leaves two outputs empty. I’m sure you can figure out something to do with them.

Needless to say, we’ve seen a lot of WS2812 hacks here. It’s hard to pick a favorite. [Mike] of “mike’s electric stuff” fame built what may be the largest installation we’ve seen, and this hack that effectively projection-maps onto a randomly placed string of WS2812s is pretty cool. But honestly, no project that blinks or glows can go far wrong, right?

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1575 Bottles of Beer on the (LED) Wall

Say hello to my little friend, lovingly named Flaschen Taschen by the members of Noisebridge in San Francisco. It is a testament to their determination to drink Corona beer get more members involved in building big displays each year for the Bay Area Maker Faire. I pulled aside a couple of the builders for an interview despite their very busy booth. When you have a huge full-color display standing nine feet tall and ten feet wide it’s no surprise the booth was packed with people.

Check out the video and then join me after the break for more specifics on how they pulled this off.

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Exquisite LED Handbag in the Wild

There is a lot of spectacle on display at Maker Faire. But to be honest, what I love seeing the most are well-executed builds pulled off by passionate hackers. Such is the case with [Debra Ansell]. She wasn’t exhibiting, just taking in all the sights like I was. But her bag was much better than my drab grey camera-equipment filled backpack; she build a handbag with an LED matrix and did it so well you will scratch your head trying to figure out if she bought it that way or not.

Gerrit and I walked right up and asked if she’d show it to us. We weren’t the only ones either. [Debra’s] bag started drawing a crowd as she pulled out her cellphone and sent “Hackaday” to the 10×15 matrix over Bluetooth. Check out our video interview below.

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