Visualizing Digital Logic With EL Wire

[Bob] and [Aubrey] run the System Source Computer Museum a little north of Baltimore, Maryland. For an exhibit, they thought a visual representation of digital logic and came up with a two-bit binary adder. Yes, it’s just a full adder and exactly what you would find somewhere in the second or third chapter of any digital logic textbook. The way they’re illustrating how a full adder works is the killer feature here: they’re using EL wire for all of the wires connecting the gates.

The full adder is implemented with an Arduino Mega, but the interface is the real show here. On the left side of the display there are four illuminated toggle switches that show virtual electrons flowing through EL wires, through gates and finally out to a seven-segment display. The EL wires are controlled with an EL Escudo Dos shield – a good thing, since there are a lot of lines between switches, gates, and outputs.

You can check out [Aubrey]’s demo video that also shows off how they built it below. If you’re around Baltimore, you can check out the display at the museum.

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Building EL Displays On A PCB

ELElecrolumiscent displays have seen a huge swing in popularity recently, but only in limited forms like EL wire or flat EL panels. You can, of course, cut and bend these wires and panels to suit any purpose, but custom shaped EL displays are just the bee’s knees. They’re not hard to fabricate, either: with cheap custom PCBs, all it takes to make custom EL panels is just a few chemicals.

[Nick]’s method of fabricating custom EL displays uses an exposed copper layer on a PCB you’d pick up from OSHpark or any of the random board houses in China. The process consists of designing a display – be it a few letters, pixels, or a seven-segment arrangement. The display ‘stack’ is a layer of painted-on dialectric, a phospor, and finally a translucent conductive ink that connects the display segments to ground. It looks like an extremely easy process, and from the pictures it looks like [Nick] is making some EL displays of reasonable quality.

[Nick]’s work was inspired by the grand poobah of homebrew electrolumiscent displays, [Jeri Ellsworth], who managed to make a similar EL pixel on a PCB. [Nick]’s display looks great, though, and with a little work some custom segment displays should be very possible.

Electronic wedding attire for a geeky wedding

In the past we featured many projects that were used at [Bill] and [Mara]’s wedding. However we forgot the most important thing: their electronically enhanced clothes.

As you can see from the picture above, the wife opted for LEDs while the husband preferred Electro Luminescent (EL) wires/panels. The ATtiny based platform LilyTiny was picked to control all the LEDs, and charlieplexing was implemented as only 4 IO pins were available. Animations were made using Vixen and exported via a python script.

To power the EL wires, [Bill] hacked a Sparkfun EL battery pack/inverter. He removed the shell and took out the inverter part, reverse engineered the design enough to figure out how to bypass the onboard microcontroller that generated the on/off/blink function. Finally, he 3D printed enclosures to pack the electronics with one Li-Ion battery pack. A boost regulator was used to supply the 12v required by the EL panel power supply.

Don’t forget to also check out their centerpieces and wedding invitations that we previously featured.

How to build a Tron bar that Daft Punk would hang out at

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Sure, the bar in this image looks pretty neat. But the video showing off its synchronization with the music brings it to the next level. The flashing lights and EL wire put on a quite a show that may make the bartenders feel like they’ve already had a few too many.

The most amusing part of the project is that it all started from that half bookcase mounted on the wall. [Alexander Givens] and his roommate decided to augment its usefulness as a liquor cabinet by building a bar around it. But why stop there? LED Strips and 120 feet of elecroluminescent wire give the bar its inner glow. The illuminated lines are obvious, but the LED strip locations may not be. Several of them light the shelves hosting liquor and glass wear. The bartop itself is made of glass, filled with 75 pounds of marbles, and lit from underneath by the rest of the strips.

An Arduino Mega with an EL shield drives the system. The guys built a rudimentary control interface that looks partially spill tolerant. It’s located just under the inside lip of the bar.

Their costumes came out pretty well too. But with a built-in centerpiece like this they may want to upgrade to a more accurate replica.

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Glowing Super Bowl helmets

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These geeky Superbowl decorations glow thanks to the EL panel hack which [Becky Stern] created. It’s almost impossible to make out in this image, but the EL panels have been applied to the surface of the helmet. On the San Francisco helmet you can just make out the black connector and cord at the bottom of the F.

El panels are a lot like EL wire (but they’re flat) in that the phosphors are excited when connected to a high voltage AC supply. You can cut the panels into shapes without a problem. The technique used here is to create a black vinyl mask to go over the top of the panel. This makes cutting the panel a lot easier.

The mask sticker is made on a vinyl cutter. [Becky] is a master at using the vector tool as you can see in the video after the break. She outlined each team logo with paths to create a file which the cutter can use. From there it took several tries to get the sticker just right as the curve of the helmet distorts the logos just a bit. Once it was dialed in she stuck the vinyl on the El panel and cut around the perimeter.

The Adafruit team sure loves to use electroluminescent accents.

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Headphone light show

Seriously, nothing says ‘Look at me!’ like these headphones. [Yardley Dobon] added a rainbow of colored electroluminescent wire to his headphones and made them pulse to the music. The video after the break shows the headphones bumping to the tunes. This is one of two versions of the project, the other runs the EL wire along the headphone wire itself. We’re a bit surprised that the high frequency from that parallel run doesn’t inject noise into the signal. We do enjoy seeing these in action, but in practice observers unfortunately won’t be able to hear the tunes to which the lights are pulsing.

It took us a little while to figure out that [Yardley] didn’t roll his own VU hardware. The inverter driving the EL wire is designed to bump to the music. But he did hack it to use an audio line rather than a microphone. He mentions that this has other uses, like allowing carefully crafted sound clips to precisely control the inverter.

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Fancy beer pong table cleans your balls

Beer Pong seems to have been around for some time but it only recently exploded in to a universally known game. But one thing has always bothered us. Who wants to drink the beer into which that grimy little ball has fallen? Leave it to the frat boys at MIT to come up with a solution. Their beer pong table automatically cleans your balls.

Of course the table looks great. It’s outfitted with laser cut felt lettering on the apron, and the top features EL wire highlights. But the two features that really set it apart aren’t hard to spot either. First, there are rain gutters along either side to help catch the spillage. Secondly, that blue ring is actually the input nozzle for the ball cleaner. By pushing the ball through the vinyl sleeve it enters a recirculating liquid cleanser, popping out of the portal on the left a second later. That’s about all the details we have on the system, but you can get a closer look at the inner workings in the clip after the break.

The thing to remember is that these guys NEVER run out of ping-pong balls. They’ve got thousands on hand ever since they built this launcher.

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