LED Ring Around the ESP8266

The world needs more blinky lights, and [Bertus Kruger] has created a neat way to make lights blink wirelessly. He has a footprint in the middle of the board for soldering the castellated ESP8266 module, and an LED ring around it to create the WiFi Pixel. It’s an LED ring that can be controlled over a WiFi connection. His design is based on a combination of the ubiquitous ESP8266 WiFi chip and a NeoPixel ring from AdaFruit, so there are already great examples of how to code and control the hardware. The project is still in progress, but he has released all of the details, including the Gerber files for the board and the Arduino code that the ESP8266 is running.

It’s a great start: add in battery support and you could have an awesome way to have portable LED blinky light rings. For those who want to try it out without building your own circuit boards, [Bertus] says that it could be built with an ESP8266 dev board and an Adafruit NeoPixel ring. Currently, he is running the device from USB, but there is no reason why it couldn’t be powered from a battery for some portable USB blinkiness.

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LED Matrix Failure and Vindication

If necessity is the mother of invention, what’s failure the mother of? Improvement? Anyway, [prpplague]’s second version of his roll-up 70×30 RGB LED display looks a lot better and more reliable than the first, and that’s precisely due to “failing”.

Sometimes you design the hardware around the software, and sometimes vice-versa. It’s all about the balance of pain. [prpplague] initially wired the strips together in a consistently left-to-right raster arrangement to make the coding easier, but this means long wires on the backside of the fabric returning from the right side back to the start again at the left. These long wires snagged on stuff, and pulled the solder connections apart.

600px-Dotstar-adapter-solder3The fix? Alternate rows of left-to-right with right-to-left to minimize wiring and make nice, robust connectors for the ends, and a much more elegant implementation at the expense of more complicated software to drive the device. (Alternating rows have to be flipped horizontally, so this means custom driver routines.)

The second gremlin was that the interfacing board that [prpplague] was using didn’t have enough current sourcing capability on the SPI lines, and he discovered that he couldn’t communicate reliably with the strings if the first pixel was more than 24″ of wire away from the board. Once the signal got to the first pixel, though, everything was fine. [prpplague] figured out that the RGB LEDs themselves had more drive capability than the SPI source.

The solution? Add a single pixel at the front of the chain to buffer the SPI lines and serve as a bonus status indicator. Cute.

We’d hardly call these “fails”, but rather “learning experiences”. Anyway, here’s two design “mistakes” that we won’t make when making a roll-up flexible pixel display. Thanks [prpplague].

You Can’t Call It a Battlestation Without This Overhead Control Panel

Modern computers are rubbish. Why, they barely have a switch or a blinky light on them. What’s the point in having a computer if you don’t have the thrill of throwing a switch or eight and watching lights blink in response? [Smashcuts] obviously agrees because he built a control panel filled with heavy-duty switches and blinking wonderfulness to augment his battlestation. This piece of mechanical wonderment has buttons for useful features such as typing several levels of derisive laughter in chat windows, playing odd sound effects and a large red panic button that… well, I won’t spoil the surprise. The whole thing is hand-wired and fronted with laser-cut panels that make it look really authentic. [smashcuts] built it “because it didn’t exist and I felt like it needed to”, which is a perfect justification for this piece of industrial scale awesomeness.

It does have some more practical uses, though: he has set several of the switches to trigger actions in Photoshop and other programs, so this could be easily adapted for those who have the odd belief that things need a practical use to exist. He used USB controllers from Desktop Aviator, and a Mac program called Controller Mate to set up the sequencing for the blinkies. Unfortunately, [smashcuts] didn’t produce a how-to guide for this panel, claiming that “I don’t really have blueprints or schematics. I REALLY didn’t know what I was doing, so all the notes I do have wouldn’t make sense to anyone. It’d be like reading an owners manual to a car written by a caveman”. Either way, it is an impressive build, and you can find more details from the creator on this reddit thread.

Alcove: Blinky Art with a Killer Story

We should come clean right up front. We like blinky stuff, tech art, smoke machines, and dark atmospheric electronic music. This audiovisual installation piece (scroll down) by [supermafia] ticks off all our boxes. As the saying doesn’t really go, writing about site-specific audiovisual art pieces is like dancing about architecture, so go ahead and watch the video (Vimeo) below the break.

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“Arduino Borealis” Combines LEDs and Paint

[Stef Cohen] decided to combine three different artistic mediums for her latest project. Those are painting, electronics, and software. The end goal was to recreate the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, in a painting.

The first step was to make the painting. [Stef] began with a shadow box. A shadow box is sort of like a picture frame that is extra deep. A snowy scene was painted directly onto the front side of the glass plate of the shadow box using acrylic paint. [Stef] painted the white, snowy ground along with some pine trees. The sky was left unpainted, in order to allow light to shine through from inside of the shadow box. A sheet of vellum paper was fixed to the inside of the glass pane. This serves to diffuse the light from the LEDs that would eventually be placed inside the box.

Next it was time to install the electronics. [Stef] used an off-the-shelf RGB LED matrix from Adafruit. The matrix is configured with 16 rows of 32 LEDs each. This was controlled with an Arduino Uno. The LED matrix was mounted inside the shadow box, behind the vellum paper. The Arduino code was easily written using Adafruit’s RGB Matrix Panel library.

To get the aurora effect just right, [Stef] used a clever trick. She took real world photographs of the aurora and pixelated them using Photoshop. She could then sample the color of each pixel to ensure that each LED was the appropriate color. Various functions from the Adafruit library were used to digitally paint the aurora into the LED matrix. Some subtle animations were also included to give it an extra kick.

Hackaday Prize Entry: 10 Watt Individually Addressable RGB LEDs

Individually addressable RGB LEDs like Neopixels, WS2812s, and  WS2811s are the defacto standard for making blinkey glowey projects. To build a very bright display, you need a lot of them, relegating very bright RGB displays to those of us who can afford the hardware and figure out how to drive that many LEDs. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [AJ Reynolds] is cranking these tiny RGB LEDs up a notch by building an individually addressable 10 Watt RGB floodlight.

Instead of building an RGB LED floodlight from scratch, [AJ] is leveraging the most mediocre of what China has to offer. He found 10 Watt RGBs for a dollar a piece and a few floodlight cases that cost about $5 a piece. By dispensing with the white LED in the floodlight case and replacing it with a 10 Watt RGB LED and some custom circuitry, [AJ] can build a powerful RGB floodlight with a BOM cost of under $15.

While there are big RGB floodlights out there, controlling them either means a custom proprietary protocol or messing around with DMX. A floodlight that speaks the same language as a WS2811 leverages an enormous amount of work from the world of Arduino and a lot of projects from around the Internet, making this a great entry for really bright blinkies and an excellent entry for The Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Alarm Notifies the Office When the Coffee is Ready

[Stian] thought it would be nice if his coworkers could be electronically notified when the latest batch of coffee is ready. He ended up building an inexpensive coffee alarm system to do exactly that. When the coffee is done, the brewer can press a giant button to notify the rest of the office that it’s time for a cuppa joe.

[Stian’s] first project requirement was to activate the system using a big physical button. He chose a button from Sparkfun, although he ended up modifying it to better suit his needs. The original button came with a single LED built-in. This wasn’t enough for [Stian], so he added two more LEDs. All three LEDs are driven by a ULN2003A NPN transistor array. Now he can flash them in sequence to make a simple animation.

This momentary push button supplies power to a ESP8266 microcontroller using a soft latch power switch. When the momentary switch is pressed, it supplies power to the latch. The latch then powers up the main circuit and continues supplying power even when the push button is released. The reason for this power trickery is to conserve power from the 18650 li-on battery.

The core functionality of the alarm uses a combination of physical hardware and two cloud-based services. The ESP8266 was chosen because it includes a built-in WiFi chip and it only costs five dollars. The microcontroller is configured to connect to the WiFi network with the push of a button. The device also monitors the giant alarm button.

When the button is pressed, it sends an HTTP request to a custom clojure app running on a cloud service called Heroku. The clojure app then stores brewing information in a database and sends a notification to the Slack cloud service. Slack is a sort of project management app that allows multiple users to work on projects and communicate easier over the internet. [Stian] has tapped into it in order to send the actual text notification to his coworkers to let them know that the coffee is ready. Be sure to watch the demo video below. Continue reading “Alarm Notifies the Office When the Coffee is Ready”