LED Notification Cube is a Good First Project

Two years ago, [Matt] made a move away from his software hacks and into the physical world. He was part of a pilot program to provide mentorship to children as part of the Maker Education Initiative. This program gave him access to 3D printers, CNC machines, and laser cutters within the New York Hall of Science makerspace. [Matt] chose to build an illuminated notification cube for his first physical project. The idea being that smart phones have so many alerts, many of which are unimportant. His project would help him to visualize and categorize each alert to better understand its importance.

The brain of the system is a Raspberry Pi. [Matt] found a Python library that allowed him to directly control an RGB LED strip based on the LPD8806 chip. He wired the data pins directly to the Pi and used an old 5V cell phone charger to power the LEDs. The strip was cut into smaller strands. Each face of the cube would end up with three strands of two LEDs each, or six LEDs per side. [Matt] found a mount for the Pi on Thingiverse and used a 3D printer to bring it into existence. The sides were made of frosted laser cut acrylic. The frosted look helps to diffuse the light from the LEDs.

Over time [Matt] found that the cube wasn’t as useful as he originally thought it would be. He just didn’t have enough alerts to justify the need. He ended up reprogramming the Pi to pull weather information instead, making use of the exact same hardware for another, more useful purpose.

LEDs Strips Tell You the Trains Aren’t Running

[James] is a frequent user of the London Underground, a subway system that is not immune to breakdowns and delays. He wanted a way to easily tell if any of the trains were being disrupted, and thanks to some LEDs, he now has that information available at a glance without having to check a webpage first.

Inspired by the Blinky Tape project at FT Engineering, [James] thought he could use the same strip of addressable LEDs to display information about the tube. A Raspberry Pi B+ gathers data from the London Underground’s TfL API and does a few calculations on the data. If there is a delay, the LEDs in the corresponding section of the strip will pulse, alerting the user to a problem with just a passing glance.

The project is one of many that displays data about the conditions you’ll find when you step outside the house, without having to look at a computer or smartphone. We recently featured an artistic lamp which displays weather forecasts for 12 hours into the future, and there was an umbrella stand which did the same thing. A lot is possible with LEDs and a good API!

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Documenting Poorly Documented LED Strips

While [Drew] was in China for the Dangerous Prototypes Hacker Camp, he picked up some very bright, very shiny, and very cheap LED strips. They’re 5 meter “5050” 12V strips with 20 LEDs per meter for about $15 a spool. A good deal, you might think until you look at the datasheet for the controller. If you want an example of how not to document something, this is it.

A normal person would balk at the documentation, whereas [Drew] decided to play around with these strips. He figured out how to control them, and his efforts will surely help hundreds in search of bright, shiny, glowy things.

You are expected to tell the difference between 'GMODE', 'OMODE' and 'CMODE' in this pinout.
You are expected to tell the difference between ‘GMODE’, ‘OMODE’ and ‘CMODE’ in this pinout.

The datasheet for the LPD6803 controller in this strip – available from Adafruit here – is hilarious. The chip takes in clocked data in the order of Green, Red, and Blue. If anyone can explain why it’s not RGB, please do so. Choice phrasing includes, “VOUT is saturation voltage of the output polar to the grand” and “it is important to which later chip built-in PLL regernate circuit can work in gear.” Apparently the word ‘color’ means ‘gray’ in whatever dialect this datasheet was translated into.

Despite this Hackaday-quality grammar, [Drew] somehow figured out how to control this LED strip. He ended up driving it with an LPC1768 Mbed microcontroller and made a demo program with a few simple animations. You can see a video of that below.

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Brighten Your Day with Motion Controlled Cabinet Light

[Thomas Snow] found himself in a bit of a pickle. His kitchen lights didn’t adequately light his counter-tops. So instead of inventing a light bending device that could warp space-time enough to get the light where it needs to go, he decided to take the easy road and installed a motion controlled LED strip under the cabinets.

Now, these aren’t just any ‘ol motion control lights. Not only is [Thomas] able to turn the lights on and off with a wave of his hand, he can control the brightness as well. He’s doing the magic with an ultrasonic range sensor and PIR sensor. An ATTiny85 ties everything together to form the completed system.

The PIR sensor was incorporated because [Thomas] didn’t want to bug his pets with the 40kHz chirp from the ultrasonic sensor. So it only comes on when the PIR sensor sees your hand. Be sure to check out [Thomas’s] project for full source and schematics.

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Sound Reactive Drums of Trailing Light

If you’re going to be the drummer in a band for a Back to the Future themed New Years Eve party, you really need to add something to your gig that captures that kitschy futuristic ambiance as seen by the 80s. Rainbow LEDs will do the trick.

For his drum set’s reactive trailing light display, [Alec Smecher] was inspired by a similar project he’d seen in the past where Neopixels were added to a regular drum kit and activated with several individual microphones. Since the microphones ultimately heard all of the thundering noise from every drum and cymbal at once, there was a lot of bleed over in the response of the LEDs. To remedy this, [Alec] used piezo pickups which listen to discrete surface vibrations rather than sound in order to clean up the effect produced by the lights. Each of the five LED strips lining the stands of his cymbal and inside of his drums were programmed to react with a burst of light equal in brightness to the intensity of the vibration sensed by the piezo.

To insure everything kept together amidst all the constant motion and shaking during performance, [Alec] soldered his connections directly onto his Trinket’s pins as well as the fragile pickup of the piezo. The pickup of the sensors were taped directly against the skin of his drums and along the inside of each cymbal to maximize responsiveness. After ringing in the new year appropriately as the ‘band from the future’, [Alec] reports that his colorful addition worked fantastic the whole night.

Those interested in building their own can find a nice schematic on [Alec’s] blog as well as the code he used on github. Difficulty level taken into account, this is a great first project for a musician who has yet to dabble in electronics… and seeing that it’s a brand new year, there’s no better time to have a go at something new.

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Motion Through Time Painted in Light

Photographer [Stephen Orlando] has an awesome body of work that focuses on human motion. The images he captures with colored light and a camera set up in a setting of choice tell a story of time in a way that’s visually stunning.

[Stephen] has experimented with various types of action. He’s attached LED strips onto props like oars in order to capture the rhythmic movements of rowing, or directly onto parts of the body to visualize more chaotic gestures, like the forms of a martial artist. His camera is set up to take long exposures, soaking in the light as it plots itself through space over time.

karateLight

Though this isn’t a hack directly in itself, [Stephen’s] experimentation with time and light is a great case of technology being added to the arsenal of traditional mediums we’re accustomed to seeing in the production of artistic work. The clean execution of his idea to tell a story about what we don’t typically get to see by use of light should inspire all of us who love to play around with LEDs in our projects. Sometimes the more interesting aspects of our work are created in the negative space we forget to consider.

The next time you find yourself working on a hack, look at what you’re creating from a perspective beyond its original context. For example, 3D printing with a delta robot is a bit of a departure from it’s original purpose as a pick and place machine. Even further yet is the concept of using one to draw images in space with light. Often the process of somethings creation, as well as the byproduct of what it took to make it, is just as worthy of investigation. Don’t forget to search between the lines… that’s where the magic is.

Measuring the Length of WS2812 Strips

[Tim] discovered a simple way to measure the length of WS2812 addressable LED strips from a microcontroller. This is great for any project that can have an arbitrary length of addressable LED strip attached to it.

The simplest (and perhaps most reliable) way to measure strip length is by feeding the serial output pin of the end of the strip back to the microcontroller. The microcontroller keeps clocking bits into the strip until it receives data from the end of the strip. [Tim] didn’t want to run an additional signal to the end of his strip, so he found another solution.

[Tim] used the ADC of his microcontroller (an ATtiny) to measure supply voltage droop as LEDs are turned on. Each LED draws around 60mA at full brightness, so [Tim] sequentially turned on each LED and watched the ADC for slight voltage changes. If the voltage changed, there must be an LED at that address. [Tim] does note that this method is extremely dependent on the power supply used and only works on short strips. Check out his blog post for more details.