Tiny Light Bulb Flasher Vies for World’s Record

We’re going to go out on a limb here and declare this minuscule incandescent light flasher the smallest such circuit in the world. After all, when you need a microscope to see it work, you’ve probably succeeded in making the world’s smallest something.

Even if it’s not record breaking, [Ben Krasnow]’s diminutive entry in the 2017 Flashing Light Contest, which we recently covered, is still pretty keen. For those not familiar with the contest, it’s an informal challenge to build something that electrically switches an incandescent light on and off in the most interesting way possible for the chance to win £200. [Ben] says he’ll donate the prize money to a STEM charity if he wins, and we’d say he has a good chance with this flea-sized entry.

The incandescent lamp he chose is a specialty item for model makers and scale railroad enthusiasts; we’d heard of “grain of wheat” bulbs before, but this thing is ridiculous. The bulb makes the 4.6 mm diameter SR416 hearing aid battery that powers the flasher look enormous. The driver is a clever Schmitt trigger inverter with a tiny RC network to flash the bulb at about 1 Hz. The video below shows the flasher working and details the development and the build, which featured spot welding to the battery. [Ben] has even spec’d precisely how many Joules of energy will rupture the thing steel cases on these cells — we suspect involuntarily through trial and error.

[Ben]’s entry in the contest is now our favorite, and not just because he’s been a great friend to Hackaday with such classic hacks as watching a phonograph needle with an electron microscope and a homebrew CT scanner. This circuit is genuinely fascinating, and we hope it inspires you to try to top it. There’s a little less than a month left in the contest, so get to it.

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Flash a Light Bulb, Win a Prize

How many geeks does it take to flash a lightbulb? Judging from the list of entries in the 2017 Flashing Light Prize, so far only seven. But we suspect Hackaday readers can add to that total.

The goal is almost as simple as possible: build something that can flash an incandescent light bulb for at least five minutes. The system actually has to power the bulb’s filament, so no mechanical shutters are allowed. Other than that, the sky is the limit — any voltage, any wattage, any frequency and duty cycle, and any circuit. Some of the obvious circuits, like an RC network on a relay, have been tried. But we assume there will be points for style, in which case this sculptural cascading relay flasher might have a chance. Rube Goldberg mechanical approaches are encouraged, as in this motor, thread, stick and switch contraption. But our fave thus far is the 1000-watt bulb with solar cell feedback by Hackaday regular [mikeselectricstuff].

Get your entry in before August 1st and you’ll be on your way to glory and riches — if your definition of rich is the £200 prize. What the heck, your chances are great right now, and it’s enough for a few pints with your mates. Just don’t let it distract you from working on your 2017 Hackaday Prize entry — we’re currently in the “Wheels, Wings, and Walkers” phase, so maybe there’ll be a little crossover that you can leverage for your flasher.

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Industrial Indicator Makes the Move from PLC to FPGA

Industrial controls are fun to use in a build because they’re just so — well, industrial. They’re chunky and built to take a beating, both from the operating environment and the users. They’re often power guzzlers, though, so knowing how to convert an industrial indicator for microcontroller use might be a handy skill to have.

Having decided that an Allen-Bradley cluster indicator worked with the aesthetic of his project, a Halloween prop of some sort, [Glen] set about dissecting the controls. Industrial indicators usually make that a simple task so that they can be configured for different voltages in the field, and it turned out that the easiest approach to replacing the power-hungry incandescent bulbs with LEDs was to build a tiny PCB to fit inside the four-color lens.

The uniquely shaped board ended up being too small for even series resistors for the LEDs, so a separate driver board was also fabbed. The driver board is set up to allow a single 5-volt supply and logic levels of 3.3-volt or 5-volt, making the indicator compatible with just about anything. The finished product lends a suitably sinister look to the prop.

If you’re not familiar with the programmable logic controllers such an indicator would be used with in the field, then maybe you should try running Pong on a PLC for a little background.

How Many Inventors Does It Take To Invent A Light Bulb

Many credit the invention of the incandescent light bulb with Edison or Swan but its development actually took place over two centuries and by the time Edison and Swan got involved, the tech was down to the details. Those details, however, meant the difference between a laboratory curiosity that lasted minutes before burning out, and something that could be sold to consumers and last for months. Here then is the story of how the incandescent light bulb was invented.

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The Champagne of Light Bulbs

We’re all used to making our own lighting projects. Triac dimmers, LEDs, Neopixels, EL wire, there is a huge array of lighting components and technologies at our fingertips. But how many of us have made our own lighting rather than buying off-the-shelf? [Confined Maker] set out to do just that by creating an incandescent light bulb from scratch, and since he’s obviously a hacker with a bit of class he did it in an empty Dom Perignon champagne bottle.

It might seem a daunting project, but as he shows us in the video below the break, it turns out to be surprisingly straightforward with no exotic tooling required. He starts by winding a fine coil of thin tungsten wire round a dowel to act as his filament, before bringing a pair of enameled copper wires through holes drilled in the base of the bottle and out of the neck. The ends of these wires are then spliced to his filament and secured with conductive epoxy before the whole assembly is carefully slid back into the bottle. The holes are caulked with silicone, and the bottle is then carefully charged with argon. Argon is heavier-than-air, so he can do this on the bench with nothing more than a bicycle tube inflator and a drinking straw. The bottle is then sealed with a cork and more silicone, and his bulb is ready.

The first power-up with 120V mains power sees a puff of smoke inside the bottle as a coating on the tungsten is vapourised, but after that the bulb does its job well. He’s concerned about his epoxy melting, and the filament has moved to one side of the bottle so he’s not sure about the lifetime he can expect, but to make a working light bulb with such basic equipment is still an impressive accomplishment. His video below the break is eleven and a half minutes long, but well worth watching every minute.

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Using WS2811 Chip to Drive Incandescent Lamps

What makes the WS2812-style individually addressable pixel LEDs so inviting? Their rich colors? Nope, you can get RGB LEDs anywhere. Their form factor? Nope. Even surface-mount RGBs are plentiful and cheap. The answer: it’s the integrated controller. It’s just so handy to speak an SPI-like protocol to your LEDs — it separates the power supply from the data, and you can chain them to your heart’s desire. Combine this controller and the LEDs together in a single package and you’ve got a runaway product success.

But before the WS2812, there was the WS2811 — a standalone RGB controller IC. With the WS2812s on the market, nobody wants the lowly WS2811’s anymore. Nobody except [Michael Krumpus], that is. You see, he likes the old-school glow of incandescent, but likes the way the WS2812 strings are easy to drive and extend. So he bought a bag of WS2811s and put the two together.

The controller IC can’t handle the current that an incandescent bulb requires, so he added a MOSFET to do the heavy lifting. After linking a few of these units together, he discovered (as one does with the LED-based WS2812s eventually) that the switching transients can pull down the power lines, so there is a beefy capacitor accompanying each bulb.

He wanted each bulb to be independently addressable, so he only used the blue line of the RGB controller, which leaves two outputs empty. I’m sure you can figure out something to do with them.

Needless to say, we’ve seen a lot of WS2812 hacks here. It’s hard to pick a favorite. [Mike] of “mike’s electric stuff” fame built what may be the largest installation we’ve seen, and this hack that effectively projection-maps onto a randomly placed string of WS2812s is pretty cool. But honestly, no project that blinks or glows can go far wrong, right?

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Retrotechtacular: 100 Watts 120 Volts

If you read our recent feature about the Tal-y-Llyn Railway, the world’s first preserved line, you may have taken a while to watch the short film about the railway in the early 1950s. It was the work of an American film maker, [Carson “Kit” Davidson].

His other work includes some films that might be of interest to Hackaday readers, including one filmed in 1977: “100 Watts 120 Volts”. In it, he follows the manufacture of Duro-Test 100-watt light bulbs through all the stages of their assembly as neck, filament and envelope are brought together in strangely beautiful twentieth century production machinery.

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