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Christmas light controller is its own percussion section

clicking-christmas-tree-controller

[Jason] and his father took advantage of a week off of work over Thanksgiving to design and build a Christmas light decoration that can flash fancy patterns. He calls it the Uno Christmas Tree. It’s sixteen strands of lights draped between a pole and the ground to form the shape of a tree. The main controller is an Arduino UNO, but what really makes this work is a mechanical relay board with sixteen channels.

Using trigonometry they figured out that the decoration would be fifteen feet tall and have a five-foot radius at the base. A pipe was installed to act as the trunk, with an old toilet flange at the top and stakes at the bottom to anchor the lights. They all make their connections at the controller box using extension cords that were labelled with channel numbers. You can see the final product in the video after the break. But you’ll also want to watch the clip on [Jason's] blog which shares the sonic symphony created when the mechanical relays really start working.

[Read more...]

Kick off the Christmas decorating with a review of 3 types of LED strings

[Todd Harrison] has been on a quest to replace his incandescent Christmas lights with less power hungry LED lights. There are plenty of options out there, but so far he hasn’t found any have the appearance he’s looking for. Since last year he bought three different kinds to try out and has posted a review of each.

Check out the strand of Brite Star Symphony Lights he’s showing off above. There is a white ‘Try Me’ button that lights up the string while still in the package! This offers fifteen bulbs each twelve inches apart. The strand draws 8.4 Watts when in use, you can connect up to 30 strands in series, and they are RGB lights with several different blinking patterns. He spends nearly an hour on this strand in his video review.

Next on his list is a set of Brite Star Classic Style C7 lights. They are single color and are meant to look like traditional large-bulb incandescent strands. At 2.4 Watts per strand you can string together 87 sets of them. This video is much more concise at around twenty-five minutes.

Finally he looks at the Brite Star 50 Mini LED strings. These are the traditional white Christmas tree lights, except in LED. One bulb every four inches on the string adds up to a 2.4 Watt power draw. You can string 58 sets together for a 1000 foot long string. [Todd] spends less than eight minutes reviewing this set.

You can see an intro video after the break but the full reviews are linked in his article. He really liked the Symphony Lights but the other strands have some issues. He discusses what he sees as design flaws in those strands and has decided they’re not really usable because of flickering.

[Read more...]

A PIC powered pair of electronic dice

[Timothy] is honing his microcontroller skills with this electronic dice project. In addition to giving him an opportunity to work on some code, the use of an 8-pin chip provides a design challenge for driving the twelve pips and providing a user input.

The project started off with some $4 strings of LED Christmas lights. He promptly disassembled the strands, each yielding 100 LEDs. The microcontroller he chose to work with is a PIC 12F629. It’s DIP8 package provides six I/O pins to work with. When examined closely you will find that the pips on a die are always present in pairs with the exception of the center pip. This means that only four pins are needed to drive one die. You can see a pair of transistors above; one is a PNP, the other an NPN. These are both driven from the same uC line, which toggles between the pair of die. This accounts for 5 of the available pins, with the sixth monitoring the push button.

Christmas prep starts early: MIDI control for strings of lights

If you’re planning to outdo yourself with this year’s Christmas decorations now’s the time to start planning. After all, what else have you got going on since the dreadful heat is making outdoor activities a sweat-soaked misery? Take some inspiration from [Tim] who just finished prototyping a wireless MIDI controller for his strings of Christmas lights. You can just see the four spools in the distance which are lighting up as he tickles the ivories.

The wireless link is provided by a WiFi access point which uses its USB port to control the external hardware. This is a USB Bit Whacker board which in turn drives a relay board that was designed to switch mains voltages. The high voltage parts of the rig are housed in a plastic food storage container which hosts two pair of outlets to drive four channels in total. [Tim] is happy with the outcome, which he shows off in the video after the break, and hopes to expand to a total of sixteen channels for this year’s festivities.

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One way to reuse your Christmas lights post-holiday

[Andrew] shows us one way to reuse all those strands of Christmas lights you used for decoration this year. He had a friend that was helping with stage props for a local musical and ended up using his skills to build a lighted sign with some animation capabilities.

The original plan was to cut out letters for a sign by hand and ring them with white Christmas lights. It is possible to hand cut parts reasonably well, but [Andrew] knew he could get a much better result in less time using a CNC ShopBot to make them. He didn’t know the spacing for the lights so waited and drilled holes for them by hand. Each strand is connected to a relay, then driven by an Arduino. They turned out great as you can see in the clip after the break.

This is a timely hack, because it uses plain old while incandescent bulb strands which will be going on sale in the next few days. Usually you can get them on clearance for a dollar or less so plan ahead and hit the big box store early. [Read more...]

Head-mounted light display takes holiday cheer on the go

hat-mounted-light-display

Most holiday light displays we see this time of year are stationary, or at least confined to somebody’s home. [Marco Guardigli] wanted to take his lights on the go, and thought that a light up winter hat would be perfect for showing off his holiday spirit.

In the winter he sports a sturdy wool felt hat, which was ideal for mounting LEDs. He picked up a basic LilyPad Arduino that uses a small LiPo battery as its power source, mounting it inside the hat with a bit of glue. He wired up a series of SMD LEDs around the perimeter of the hat which blend in quite well in the felt, leaving them nearly invisible to the naked eye when powered off. When he flips the LilyPad on however, there’s no missing the bright blue LEDs nor the music emanating from the tiny speaker he also mounted in the hat.

We think that [Marco's] display is great, and if we were to build one, we would likely include a copious amount of red and green LEDs in ours. Do any of you take your Christmas light display on the go? We’d love to see them, so be sure to let us know in the comments.

Stick around to see a short video of [Marco’s] hat in action.

[Read more...]

CheerLights: Synchronizing Christmas lights around the globe

cheerlights-synchronized-christmas-lights

They say that the holidays are a time to gather with others, which usually translates into spending time with friends and family. The folks at ioBridge Labs thought that while friends and family certainly are a big part of the holidays, it would be pretty cool to gather together flocks of strangers by using the Internet to synchronize their Christmas lights.

Participation in CheerLights is pretty easy, requiring little more than an Internet connection, some GE G-35 Color Effects lights, an Arduino, and an ioBridge. While those are the recommended components, an Arduino Ethernet shield will handle networking just as well. There really are no restrictions when it comes to hardware, so if you are so inclined, it should be relatively easy to roll your own display using simple RGB LEDs and a µC of your choosing.

The colors are dictated by the group’s Twitter feed, which can be found at http://twitter.com/#!/@cheerlights. Whenever a message is sent to @cheerlights along with a color, all of the light displays listening in will change simultaneously.

We really like the idea, and think it would be pretty cool to see this sort of program rolled out on a neighborhood or street-wide level, so you could see dozens of strings changing colors all at once.

If you’re interested in checking out CheerLights’ current color, be sure to take a gander at their live stream here.

[via BuildLounge]