Light-Painting Robot Turns any Floor into Art

Is [SpongeBob SquarePants] art? Opinions will differ, but there’s little doubt about how cool it is to render a pixel-mapped time-lapse portrait of Bikini Bottom’s most famous native son with a roving light painting robot.

Inspired by the recent trend of long exposure pictures of light-adorned Roombas in darkened rooms, [Hacker House] decided to go one step beyond and make a lighted robot with less random navigational tendencies. A 3D-printed frame and wheels carries a pair of steppers and a Raspberry Pi. An 8×8 Neopixel matrix on top provides the light. The software is capable of rendering both simple vector images and rastering across a large surface to produce full-color images. You’ll notice the careful coordination between movement and light in the video below, as well as the impressive turn-on-a-dime performance of the rover, both of which make the images produced so precise.

We’ve covered a lot of light-painting videos before, including jiggering a 3D-printer and using a hanging plotter to paint. But we haven’t seen a light-painter with an essentially unlimited canvas before. We’d also love to see what two or more of these little fellows could accomplish working together.

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Build Your Own Animated Turn Signals

Automotive lighting used to be strictly controlled, particularly in the United States — anyone remember sealed beam headlamps? These days, pretty much anything goes. You can even have an animated turn signal, because a simple flash isn’t fancy enough these days. You can get a scanning-LED turn signal on your new model Audi, among others. [Shravan] wanted this on their Mazda and set about building an animated turn signal and daytime running lights setup for their car.

It’s not a complicated build by any means; an off-the-shelf WS2812B strip provides the blinkums, an Arduino Nano the smarts. Using a modified library to drive the LEDs allowed [Shravan] to get things running with a minimum of fuss. We’d love to see a little more of the gritty reality of this build — how the Nano is getting directional signals from the car, and how it’s all wired up and bolted on. When you’re installing custom hardware onto a vehicle, the devil really is in the details. It’s supremely difficult to create something that looks tidy and functions well.

It’s amazing to think about how far we’ve come. When high-brightness LEDs first came on to the market in the 1990s, you would have been on the hook for wiring your own loom to connect the 20+ LEDs, building your own driver circuitry, and likely etching a custom PCB — all the while you programmed a PIC in assembly as it dangled off a parallel-port programmer. But then again, our cave-dwelling ancestors didn’t even have matches. Time marches on. Use today’s technology to build the very best things you can.

We love seeing car mods, particularly those that are well executed. Check out [Dave]’s interior lighting mods to the Nissan Juke — a car this writer has weighty opinions about. Video after the break.

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NeoJoints Make WS2812 LEDs Even More Fun

What’s more fun than individually addressable RGB LEDs? Many, many individually addressable RGB LEDs. What’s more fun than all the miscellaneous soldering involved in connecting many of these cheap and cheerful strips together? Well, basically anything. But in particular, these little widgets that [todbot] designed help make connecting up strips of RGB LEDs a snap.

[todbot]’s connectors aren’t particularly groundbreaking, but they’re one of those things that you need the moment you first lay eyes on them. And they’re a testament to rapid prototyping: the mounting holes and improved routing patterns evolved as [todbot] made some, soldered them up, mounted them, and then made some more. We’d like to see some odd angles, of course, but that shouldn’t be too hard to arrange. Everything is up on GitHub, so you can go check it out.

Of course, necessity is the mother of invention, and she’s got many kids. Which is to say that we’ve seen a variation of this hack before precisely because other folks have stared at this matrix-of-strips problem before and come up with similar solutions. Still, we really like the mounting holes and overall aesthetic of [todbot]’s solution, and if you ever find yourself joining WS2812 strips together, give it a try.

Closer Look at Everyone’s Favorite Blinky

Admit it, you love looking at silicon die shots, especially when you have help walking through the functionality of all the different sections. This one’s really easy for a couple of reasons. [electronupdate] pointed his microscope at the die on a WS2812.

The WS2812 is an addressible RGB LED that is often called a Neopixel (a brand name assigned to it by Adafruit). The part is packaged in a 5×5 mm housing with a clear window on the front. This lets you easily see the diodes as they are illuminated, but also makes it easy to get a look at the die for the logic circuit controlling the part.

This die is responsible for reading data as it is shifted in, shifting it out to the next LED in the chain, and setting each of the three diodes accordingly. The funcitonality is simple which makes it a lot easier to figure out what each part of the die contributes to the effort. The diode drivers are a dead giveaway because a bonding wire connected to part of their footprint. It’s quite interesting to hear that the fourth footprint was likely used in testing — sound off in the comments if you can speculate on what those tests included.

We had no trouble spotting logic circuitry. This exploration doesn’t drill down to the gate level like a lot of [Ken Shirriff’s] silicon reverse engineering but the process that [electronupdate] uses is equally fun. He grabs a tiny solar cell and scopes it while the diodes are running to pick up on the PWM pattern used to fade each LED. That’s a neat little trick to keep in your back pocket for use in confirming your theories about clock rate and implementation when reverse engineering someone else’s work.

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Making a Mega LED Desk

Few things beat a sturdy, home-built desk — especially when it’s jam-packed with over 1200 WS2812 LEDs.

[nolobot] and his bother struggled with setting up and squaring-off the t-slotted, extruded aluminium frame which makes up the desk. He recommends practicing with a smaller frame for anyone else attempting a similar build. The surface of the desk has a few inches between the polycarbonate top and the 1/4″ plywood painted black serving as the substrate for the LEDs. Those LEDs come in strip form but still required several hundred solders, and wiring headaches in an attempt to make future upgrades manageable. Dozens of support bolts with adjustable feet support the desk surface throughout. These all had to be individually adjusted and can be made out if you look closely at the demo videos.

An Arduino Mega controls the LEDs with the help of the FastLED library. Custom code was necessary because one of the major issues [nolobot] faced was the power draw. 1200 LEDs at 5V draw quite a bit of current, so the LEDs were coded to peak at about 50% brightness. The matrix was split into different banks, while also limiting the 40A PSU to only 15A.

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Create Cheap Philips Hue Compatible Devices

The Philips Hue range is a great way to add wirelessly controllable lighting to your home, but the protocol is proprietary which makes it difficult to add our own custom hardware. [Peter] found a way to create his own Hue compatible devices based on cheap JN5168 modules that are able to connect to the Hue bridge. This means you can roll out your own lamps using cheap RGB or White LEDs, a power supply and the JN5168 Zigbee Light Link module.

He started off by trying to clone a Zigbee Light Link device to a MeshBee — Seeed studio’s open source Zigbee Pro module based on the NXP JN5168. Even though the MeshBee used the same device as a Hue lamp, it would not connect to the Hue bridge. But another clone lamp called Innr that he purchased from the local hardware store did connect quite easily. Using NXP’s open source tools, he was able to download the flash and EEPROM contents from the Innr and copy them to the MeshBee which did the trick.

After the EEPROM transfer trick, he figured out how to modify the two keys used for the ZigBee protocol — one for Home Automation and the other for the Light Link. With this final discovery he is able to take the ZigBee Light Link demo project, edit it using Beyond Studio, and then load the binaries on the MeshBee device so it can connect to the Hue bridge.

All of this work culminates in two custom firmware binaries; one for white dimmable lights and another for RGB dimmable ones. It even runs on these cheap JN5168 breakout kits he found for a few bucks. With all of the software taken care of, and having cheap ZigBee Light Link compatible modules on hand, building low cost Hue compatible lights becomes pretty straight forward.

Thanks [wind-rider] for the tip.

Enter the Space Tunnel

What’s better than 1 string of LED lights? 96. That’s how many. Each string of the 96 has 60 ws2812b LEDs, for a total of 5760 individually addressable RGB LEDs.  That’s not the cool part of [jaymeekae]’s Space Tunnel installation, the cool part is that they’re interactive.

Starting out with some PVC piping, dark cloth was used as a backdrop and the LED strips were attached to it. Several power supplies are used to supply the voltage necessary and each strip controlled by FadeCandy chips which connect to, in this case, a Windows PC via USB. Initially, computer power supplies were used, but they couldn’t supply the current necessary. [jaymeekae] used them for the first installation, but switched to better power supplies for further installations.

Once the lights were up and powered, [jaymeekae] started work on the interface to control them. Starting with a used bureau, [jaymeekae] cut out a section for the touchscreen, and installed the controlling computer in the bottom half. Processing is used to interface with the FadeCandy controllers and HTML is used for a user interface. Each mode runs a different Processing program for different effects, including audio visualization, a space tunnel mode (hence the name) and a cool drawing app where the user draws on the touchscreen and sees the results in the lights overhead.

Over several iterations, the Space Tunnel has evolved, with better power supplies and a better interface. It’s a great art installation and [jaymeekae] takes it to festivals, including one in Spain and one in the UK. There are some other LED string projects at Hack-a-Day, including this one with ping-pong balls, and this one that involves drinking a lot of beer first.

[via Reddit]

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