Communicating with a beam of light

Last weekend, ARRL, the national association of amateur radio, held a contest called, “10 GHz and up” with the goal of communicating via radio or microwaves over long distances. [KA7OEI] and a few friends decided to capitalize on the “and up” portion of the ’10 GHz and up” contest by setting up a full-duplex voice link over a distance of 95 miles. They used the 478 THz band, also known as red LEDs and laser pointers.

With [Ka7OEI]‘s friends [Ron] and [Elaine] perched atop a 5700 foot-high mountain near Park City, Utah, [Gordon], [Gary] and [KA7OEI] trudged up a hill about 10 miles north of Salt Lake City. With the help of a pair of 500,000 candlepower spotlights, the two teams found each other and began pointing increasingly higher power LEDs at each other.

The teams started off with 3 Watt red LEDs before moving up to 30 Watt LEDs and a photodetector at each end. Even though the teams weren’t working with a true line-of-sight – refraction of the atmosphere allowed them to transmit this far – they were able to transmit tone-modulated Morse and even full-duplex voice.

Not bad for a transmission that bends the FCC’s “275 GHz and up” amateur band to its breaking point.

Another eerily similar high power LED driver hack

[Maximilian Güntner] dropped us a comment in last week’s globe writeup linking to his own project, which involves a similar high power LED driver mod. This looks like the exact same mod we came up with, and [Güntner] even used the mod to connect a bunch of high power LEDs to a PCA9685 LED driver [pdf]. It’s the same exact concept as Disco Planet!

It should come as no surprise that people have actually been modding high power led drivers in this way for some time. They are a few bucks per handful and take an enormous input voltage range. In [Güntner]‘s case he grabbed a bunch of these from Dealextreme.  Actually there are two others on the site, and all three contain comments (dating back a year) with helpful tips on various ways to modify the little PCB.

Our Ebay sourced boards are different though. The boards [Güntner] purchased employ the PowTech PT4115 [pdf] which uses fewer parts and has an easy to follow data sheet. Take, for instance, the pin graciously labeled “DIM” with a little PWM signal next to it. The nerve! The Ebay drivers use the MCP34063 [pdf] which has a much more cryptic data sheet (burned two weeks and several notebook pages to figure out the circuit). Ultimately the two are so similar it makes no difference.

So, if you want to mod some LED drivers on your own, check out the how-to video after the jump. Thanks [mguentner]!

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Disco Planet, a massive RGBW LED array in a 6′ globe

About half a year ago [John] over at Frank’s Kitchens came to me with an idea for a giant lighting project. He had this 6ft diameter aluminum frame globe rescued from the Philadelphia Theater Company and wanted it to be an interactive display of sorts. After a few discussions we got together and somehow managed to order 800 3 watt LEDs in red, green, blue, and white. We had a system that worked great on paper, and managed to get it built by Valentines day for a big show. It failed miserably and hardly even illuminated the LEDs. I, naturally, took this far too personally and set out for a complete redesign, looking in the direction of digitally addressable LED strips.

In addition to building a crazy turbo charged LED array I also spent a lot (a whole lot) of time coding a nice clean fully functioning RGB LED strip controller using an Arduino Pro Mini (5V 16 MHz), the MSGEQ7 audio frequency multiplexer (PDF) , and an IR remote. I plan on using this for other projects so the code can be easily reconfigured to use many different LED strips and a whole slew of IR remotes.

The schematic of the globe is here. The top half  of that schematic be catered to other projects using a variety of pre-built LED strips. The pastebin with code is here,  fastSPI_LED and IRRemote here and here. Some code jockeying was required to get IRRemote.h and FastSPI_LED to play nicely together, so check the code comments.

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Building a driver for absurdly high power LEDs

A few years ago, the highest power LEDs you could buy capped out around three watts. Now, LED manufacturers are taking things to ridiculous power ratings with 30, 40, and even 90 watt LEDs. Getting these high-power LEDs are no longer a problem, but powering them certainly is. [Thomas] built a LED driver capable of powering these gigantic LEDs and creating a light show that is probably bright enough to cause bit of eye damage.

[Thomas]‘ LED driver is based on Linear Technology’s LT3518 LED driver. This driver is part of a project to build a huge WiFi controlled RGB LED, so the driver has outputs for three separate LEDs capable of sourcing 700 mA each.

Because [Thomas] is dealing with crazy amounts of heat and power required to light up these huge LEDs, the driver board features a temperature sensor next to each LED driver. When the board gets too hot, the driver automatically shuts down, preventing bad things from happening.

You can check out a few pictures of [Thomas]‘ LED driver over on the build page for his WiFi LED project. A truly awesome amount of lighting power here, that also makes it impossible to get a good picture of the board in operation.

Keeping an old 8mm projector alive with high-power LEDs

There’s a certain mystique about old home movies and 8mm film; whether it’s footage from a family gathering from 40 years ago or a stop-motion animation you made when you were 12, there’s an immediacy for film that the VHS tapes from your family’s first camcorder can’t match. [Teslas Moustache] has been getting into 8mm cameras and projectors, so when he came across a 8mm/super 8 projector that needed a bulb, he knew he had a worthwhile project on his hands.

To replace the burnt-out and very expensive to replace incandescent bulb, [Teslas] sourced a very bright star LED from Jameco. This 1 Watt LED puts out more than enough light to project a frame of film onto a screen and fortunately doesn’t get as hot as the stock bulb.

To power the LED, [Teslas] used a cell phone charger powered from the 120 VAC incandescent socket to supply the requisite 5 Volts at 1 Amp (Ohm’s Law works on coffee) power for the LED. Right now, there’s still the matter of fabricating a nice enclosure to mount the LED and charger in the bulb socket, but once [Teslas] figures that out, he’ll have a very nice 8mm projector on his hands.