Akiba’s Awesome Lighting Tutorial

[Akiba] over at FreakLabs just put up a detailed tutorial outlining how to control and sequence lighting wirelessly using an Arduino and Vixen lighting sequencer software.

For those that don’t know [Akiba], he’s the guy behind Wrecking Crew Orchestra (TRON Dance) and their EL wire costumes. [Akiba] hacks on his projects at Hacker farm out in rural Japan.


In the tutorial, he sets up a simple 6 LED circuit on a Fredboard (an Arduino compatible board with integrated breadboard). [Akiba] then describes configuring the Vixen sequencer software to control the Arduino, providing simple example code to decode the Vixen serial protocol. Finally [Akiba] shows how to use the ChibiArduino protocol stack to build a wireless illumination system.

[Akiba] has used these tools in many stage performances including with the Wrecking Crew Orchestra (shown above) and the world number 1 flair bartending crew, UPT.

This tutorial is particularly awesome, as it includes both step-by-step videos and a text reference. The videos give a great overview of the process, while the text provides a handy reference to refer to as you hack on your own illumination projects.

Thanks for the writeup [Akiba]! With Christmas just round the corner we hope to see readers using these techniques in their own festive illuminations soon!

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Full-Color Edge-Lit Laser Cut Acrylic

Edge-lit art has been around for a very long time, and most people have probably come across it in a gift shop somewhere. All it takes is a pane of transparent material (usually an acrylic sheet) with the artwork etched into the surface. Shine a light into the sheet from the edge, and refraction takes over to light up the artwork. However, this technique is almost always limited to a single pane, and therefore a single color. [haqnmaq] wanted to take this idea and make it full-color, and has written up a great Instructables tutorial on how to accomplish this.

If you want to make something like this yourself, the only thing you really need is a laser cutter and some basic electronics equipment. The process itself is so straightforward that it’s surprising that it isn’t more common. You start by taking a photo of your choice and use an image editor to break it up into three photos, one for red, one for green, and one for blue. Each of those photos is then etched into an acrylic pane with a laser cutter. When the panes are positioned in front of each other and edge-lit with their respective LEDs, a full-color image comes to life.

This isn’t the first edge-lit artwork project we’ve featured, but it definitely has the highest fidelity. Because [haqnmaq’s] technique uses three colors, you can use his tutorial to reproduce any photo you like. You could even take this a step further and create animated photos by adding more panes and lighting them up in the correct sequence!

Raspberry Pi-Powered Back To The Future Time Circuits

Here’s something that’s a little late to celebrate the fact that all the events in Back to the Future have happened in the past, but that’s what time machines are for, right? [Deater] created Pi-powered time circuits and a flux capacitor. He might not have a DeLorean, but he does have the equipment to turn a DeLorean into a cool car.

The ‘time circuits’ shown on-screen in Back to the Future actually weren’t very complex; the times were just cutouts with lights and gels; no real electronics wizardry necessary. Of course the BttF DeLorean has since been remodeled and refurbished with time circuits that look and act the part, and [Deater]’s time circuits have everything you would expect: a display of the destination, current, and last time, sound effects, numeric keypad, flux capacitor, and a speedometer.

While it doesn’t simulate the time circuits from the movie exactly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The movie time circuits were colored gels, and wouldn’t exactly be practical for a Raspberry Pi-based prop. It’s a great build, and one that would look great in either a ’98 Nissan Altima or a DeLorean

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Three Watt Individually Addressable RGB LEDs

While the gold standard for colorful blinky projects are individually controllable RGB LEDs, the usual offerings aren’t really that impressive. Yes, a few hundred Neopixels, WS2812, or other RGB LEDs will sear your retinas, but what if you wanted blinky glowy stuff that is so over the top as to be an affront to whatever creator you believe in?

This is it. [Ytai Ben-Tsvi] created an individually addressable RGB LED called the Pixie that is perfect for all the times when you need something bright, colorful, and want to blind a few people in the process.

WS2812s and Neopixels are basically RGB LEDs with a small microcontroller tucked tucked away inside, and so far there is no design house or fab plant in China that is crazy enough to add one of these tiny dies to an already overpowered LED. To build the Pixie, [Ytai] took a bare RGB LED module and added a microcontroller – a PIC12FF157X in this case. It’s not exactly a powerful microcontroller, but it can handle the shift register-like function of an individually addressable RGB, and adds gamma correction, over heating protection (something necessary when you’re dumping this much power into a tiny board, and other safeguards for each individual LED.

[Ytai] is working with Adafruit to produce these Pixies, and although they’re rather expensive at $15 per LED, you won’t need very many to blind yourself.

Tiny PIC Clock is Not a Tiny Bomb

It’s been a few weeks since the incident where Ahmed Mohamed, a student, had one of his inventions mistaken for a bomb by his school and the police, despite the device clearly being a clock. We asked for submissions of all of your clock builds to show our support for Ahmed, and the latest one is the tiniest yet but still has all of the features of a full-sized clock (none of which is explosions).

[Markus]’s tiny clock uses a PIC24 which is a small yet powerful chip. The timekeeping is done on an RTCC peripheral, and the clock’s seven segment displays are temporarily lit when the user presses a button. Since the LEDs aren’t on all the time, and the PIC only consumes a few microamps on standby, the clock can go for years on a single charge of the small lithium-ion battery in the back. There’s also a phototransistor which dims the display in the dark, and a white LED which could be used as a small flashlight in a pinch. If these features and the build technique look familiar it’s because of [Markus’] tiny MSP430 clock which he was showing around last year.

Both of his tiny clocks are quite impressive for their size, features, and power consumption. Some of the other clocks we’ve featured recently include robot clocks, clocks for social good, and clocks that are not just clocks (but still won’t explode). We’re suckers for a good clock project here, so keep sending them in!

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Halloween Hood Has Hideous LED Gaze

Looking to create fear and dread with your Halloween costume? [Becky Stern] over at Adafruit has you covered, with her tutorial on building a mystical hood with LED eyes, perfect for your next Jawa, Black Mage, or Orko costume.

This creepy-looking creation is based around a Gemma controller driving two NeoPixel Jewels, small circular RGB LED boards. The Gemma drives the boards to slowly fade on and off for the required creepy eye effect, but it would be easy to create other lighting patterns.

Speaking of patterns, the tutorial also includes a sewing pattern for the hood, and plans for a 3D printed battery holder that would make the whole thing very easy to carry. If the eyes aren’t enough, how about adding an LED magic staff to complete your creepy ensemble? Or perhaps some light-up dinosaur spiky plates?

Do you have any good Halloween costume hack plans? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll put together a list of the best closer to the hideous day.

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Doubling Down on a Big LED Display

Last year at the 2014 NC Maker Faire, Manical Labs brought a large LED display. Blinking LEDs and pixel animations are always welcome, but at 24 inches square this build was impressive, but it wasn’t impressive enough. This year, [Adam] at Manacal Labs wanted to go bigger. Much bigger. This build is called Colossus, and at two square meters and with 1250 individual LEDs, this LED display is a colossal build.

When building a big LED display, an enormous amount of planning pays off in dividends. The backbone of this project is a sheet of 3/8″ plywood, ripped down to 1 meter by 2 meters. 1250 half-inch holes are drilled in this sheet over four or five very long and very tedious evenings. The LEDs are installed in the thousand or so holes, and a grid of foam core board encases each individual LED.

One of the biggest problems with large arrays of LEDs is the sheer scale of it all. If one LED pixel draws 60mA, 1250 pixels means a draw of 75 Amps. This current will melt most wires, so the power is delivered over custom made copper bus bars. Driving this display with a reasonable refresh rate is another important consideration; WS2812 lights, with an 800kHz signal over one wire, is far too slow for a huge display. Instead of the 2812s, [Adam] went with LPD8806 LEDs that can be clocked at 30MHz. This is controlled with two AllPixels, effectively making this two displays acting as one. It all comes together in a very big LED display. You can check out a video of it below.

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