A 23 feet tall pyramid with 0.31 mile of LED strips

This year the Disorient Camp at Burning Man built a 7m tall pyramid with over half a kilometer of LED strips. For this special occasion several artists had developed patterns for this massive LED display, animating the parties happening every night in front of this build.

To handle the dusty environment, a Toughbook was running the pyramid’s main code, which was rendering the animation frames to 24-bit bitmaps and sending them over UDP to the network. For each face of the pyramid, a $45 BeagleBone Black running a dedicated program was slicing the images into the individual panels. Finally, each panel composed of eight WS281x LED strips was driven by a Teensy 3.0 microcontroller, receiving the piece to display by USB from the BeagleBone. To power the pyramid, 5V 40A power supplies were used for the tall panels, 5V 30A power supplies for the smaller ones.

Unsurprisingly, many of the power supplies failed due to the heat and dust.  The adhesive holding the LED strips also failed, and some screw terminals rattled loose from the 25KW sound system, requiring constant maintenance. Nevertheless, the sixteen thousand LEDs sure made quite an impression.

If anyone attending Burning Man managed to capture video of this thing in action we’d love to see it. Leave a link in the comments.

DIY Electricity and Internet for Burning Man


Despite this being [Kenneth Finnegan’s] first Burning Man, the guy came prepared and stayed connected by setting up a beefy electricity supply and a faint yet functional internet connection. If you saw [Kenneth’s] Burning Man slideshow, you know that the desert is but a mild deterrent against power, water, and even temporary runways.

He borrowed a 20V 100W solar panel from Cal Poly and picked up a bargain-price TSMT-20A solar charge controller off eBay. The controller babysits the batteries by preventing both overcharging and over-discharging. The batteries—two Trojan-105 220Ah 6V behemoths—came limping out of a scissor lift on their last legs of life: a high internal resistance ruled out large current draws. Fortunately, the power demands were low, as the majority of devices were 12VDC or USB. [Kenneth] also had conveniently built this USB power strip earlier in the year, which he brought along to step down to 5VDC for USB charging.

Internet in the desert, however, was less reliable. A small team provides a microwave link from civilization every summer, which is shared via open access points in 3 different camps. [Kenneth] pointed his Ubiquiti NanoStation at the nearest one, which provided a host of inconvenient quirks and top speeds of 2-20kBps: enough, at least, to check emails.

[Kenneth Finnegan’s] EPIC Burning Man slideshow


Whether or not you manged to attend this year’s Burning Man festival we’re dead certain you’ll enjoy reading [Kenneth Finnegan’s] show and tell about the event. This was his first time attending. Aside from his noobish excitement (which is really the only way to approach writing something like this) we’d never know he wasn’t a seasoned veteran. From what he and friend [Marcel] packed along with them, to the attractions he visited, he did Burning Man right!

The two snapped a selfie in the truck on their way to Black Rock City, the community that sprouts up in the Nevada desert every year for Burning Man. Bumper-to-bumper traffic is a surprise in the middle of nowhere, but when you find out that BRC boasted about 68,000 residents this year it’s no wonder. [Kenneth] spends some time talking about the camp they set up, including more than enough solar power, and an amateur radio setup that came in handy in lieu of phone service. This flows into his collection of cool art he came across, most of it massive in scale. There’s even an airport, which is how he was able to snap the aerial photo above.

We think the coolest part of his recollection is the view of ‘city life’. There are night clubs, bowling alleys, radios stations broadcasting live interviews and hosting talk shows, cafés, and much more. Hanging out in the desert at the end of August may not sound like your thing, but reading about [Kenneth’s] odyssey makes us think Burning Man is like Disneyland for Hackers.

LED strip cape drives kilometers worth of LEDs


[Hudson] is looking to drive a lot of LEDs. A driver that effectively addresses kilometers worth of LED strips isn’t an easy thing to come by. So he’s in the process of designing his own BeagleBone Cape to do the work. Above you can see the board layout he’s working with. Notice the set of repeating red footprints in the center? Those are pads for 32 RS485 connectors!

Of course this is all in preparation for Burning Man where the mantra seems to be: he who has the most LEDs wins. Well, unless you’re the sort that likes to work with flames. But we digress. The scaling problem that [Hudson] is dealing with hinges around his desire not to include ridiculous numbers microcontrollers and the need to beef up the 3.3V logic levels of the BeagleBone to travel further on the data bus of the strips. By leveraging the RS485 protocol — which is designed to carry data over long distances — he can get away with a single processing unit by adding an RS485 translator at each remote strip connector. He plans to use the BeagleBone’s Programmable Realtime Units feature to address the eight drivers on the cape. But first he has to solve what looks like a doozy of a trace routing problem

Embedded DMX controller for Burning Man


This is the lighting controller [Paul Stoffregen] built for Burning Man. They wanted to go with DMX controlled lighting this year but that most often includes a computer to run the lighting sequences. This board runs the preprogrammed DMX sequence using a hacked lighting design file.

The choreography for the lighting was planned out using a program called Vixen 2. There is one newer version of the software, but [Paul] needed to translate the output file for use with a microcontroller and version 2 makes this a bit easier than version 3. Speaking of conversion, he didn’t want to start from square one and a bit of searching led to a tutorial which [Bill Porter] posted last year on converting Vixen files for use with Arduino. It wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but most of the ground work was there.

A few code tweaks bent the script to [Paul’s] will. He changed the XML parsing function to ignore all but the main channels in the file. He also had it output a text file which can be stored on the SD card. Because the output is not being flashed to a chip this greatly increases the storage available paving the way for much longer and more complex shows.

Want to learn more about the protocol used by DMX equipment? Check out this primer.

Hackaday Links: Sunday, May 26th, 2013


The warmer months cometh and it’s time to think of this year’s Burning Man. [Matt’s] already set himself up with a sound-reactive LED project he calls the Seed of Life.

Older readers, and those who really know their hobby electronic history, will know the name Heathkit. Many readers tipped us off about their triumphant return. We’re not sure what form this reincarnation will take, but you can help shape it by participating in the survey.

Dust off that MSP430 launchpad and turn it into a composite video Pong console.

Here’s a way to use your Android phone as a computer mouse.

We’re not quite sure what this is, but turn your volume down before watching the video about a modular sythesizer hack.

[Arkadiusz Spiewak] wrote in to share some of the printing success (translated) he’s had recently with the H-bot style printer we saw a while back.

Strap an Arduino and an Electric Imp to your arm (and everyone else’s) and it’ll remember everyone you meet. You know, kind of like Google Glass but with geeky arm-wear instead of geeky headgear?

And finally, [Nerick] has just finished a thermometer project using Nixie tubes (translated).

Mirage 2.0 Lights up the desert with 4,024 LEDs

Registering a mutant vehicle at the Burning Man Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV) is rough. To be allowed to operate at night, wacky rolling creations have to have a certain degree of lighting presence. This keeps vehicles  from blending into the scenery. Unfortunately Mirage 1.0 was built specifically with this in mind,  using reflective surfaces to turn a van into a semi-invisible shiny slab. Not even EL wire, an illuminated dance floor, and spot lights could placate the DMV. The solution? Wrap the entire friggen vehicle in a netting of 4,000 LEDs! Take that officials!

Most of the hardware is Phillips display stuff, digital LED fixture controllers are used to interpret HDMI data and then pipe out color data to addressed chains. All this mapping and addressing means that the entire setup functions like a 168×24 pixel monitor.  Split chains of LEDs also happen to allow the crew to operate the doors and get in and out of the vehicle.

The underlying car was built on the same sort of principal that hid the wheels of  Skywalker’s landspeeder, only in this case the idea was to cover an entire car with mylar and mirror. An interesting side effect of this mirror wrapping is that a sheen of desert dust helps reflect the ambient LED light quite well, blurring pixel colors together. It sort of makes us wonder about picking up a bucket of Mylar for some of our spaced out displays.

The Mirage crew has plans for next year, and have videos of several ideas on the site (portions of the test videos are NSFW).  Check out the video of Mirage 2.0 in action after the jump! Thanks [erland]!

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