GE Garage and Chicago Ideas Week

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I’ve been on vacation and managed to get a day to play at the GE Garage mobile fab lab currently setup in downtown Chicago. GE has partnered with Chicago Ideas Week to bring the future of fabrication technologies to a space where the community can walk in off the street and work with some amazing hardware like CNC mills, laser cutters and 3D printers. The group is also giving classes at select times on using the equipment and general electrics. Unfortunately I was in town near the end of this event which will be Oct 20th. If you are in the area I do recommend jumping on the excellent transportation you’ll find in Chicago and have some fun at the space. Here are more details on location, classes and times.

I didn’t expect to squeeze any work into my vacation but I did take a guided tour of the fab space with my iPhone 5s.  You can join me after the break to watch the tour, which is a bit rough but still covers a lot of fun topics. Get at look at their line-up or Replicator 2 3D printers. See some fantastic prints from metal made on industrial scale printers. Learn more about the up-scaled CNC seen above that was cutting out skateboard decks. And finish up with an injection molding machine.

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G-35 Christmas lights do make a great LED matrix

This fully-addressable RGB LED matrix was built by [John Graham-Cummings]. He didn’t start from scratch, but wisely repurposed a strand of GE Color Effect lights and built a pleasant looking case in which to mount the G-35 hardware.

We’ve seen this hardware used in a similar way before. Because each ‘bulb’ has its own microcontroller, color data is shifted in via a serial bus. Orient the modules in any pattern you choose and account for that layout in software.

Since the strings have 50 bulbs, [John] simply cut off the one on the end to form his 7×7 matrix with the remaining 49 units. A square of plywood with a grid of holes holds each in place. Cord mess is not a problem as the extra was cut out and the remainders were soldered together again. [John] uses an Arduino Pro to feed in the data, which you can see for yourself in the clip after the break.

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Scrolling marquee made from GE Christmas lights

[John Riney] picked up three strands of addressable Christmas lights and used them to make a scrolling marquee. You may remember that the G-35 lights were hacked at the beginning of December, and we saw a project or two that involved these fun toys.

In order to make the display [John] modified the original packing material to hold three strands in a six by eighteen grid for a total of 108 pixels. In the video after the break he points out one interesting feature of the strand that we don’t remember from looking at the original hack; each bulb’s address is not fixed, it can be set after power-up. This works the same way as sending color data, except that you just send the address. This makes controlling a grid like this extremely easy from a microcontroller programming standpoint. Once all of the addresses have dropped down the serial bus, you’re ready to start sending color and intensity data packets.

The setup is fast, bright, and beautiful, taking just three pins of an Arduino for control. The only thing holding us back from trying this ourselves is the $150 price tag. But that was before the holiday, and we have heard some whispers about closeout deals on this product.

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