Ask Hackaday: What About the Diffusers?

Blinky LED projects: we just can’t get enough of them. But anyone who’s stared a WS2812 straight in the face knows that the secret sauce that takes a good LED project and makes it great is the diffuser. Without a diffuser, colors don’t blend and LEDs are just tiny, blinding points of light. The ideal diffuser scrambles the photons around and spreads them out between LED and your eye, so that you can’t tell exactly where they originated.

We’re going to try to pay the diffuser its due, and hopefully you’ll get some inspiration for your next project from scrolling through what we found. But this is an “Ask Hacakday”, so here’s the question up front: what awesome LED diffusion tricks are we missing, what’s your favorite, and why?

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Portable LED Flash For Photography

Photography is all about light. It’s literally right there in the name – stemming from the Greek word, photos. This is why photographers obsess over the time of day of a shoot, why Instagrammers coalesce around landmarks at sunset, and why a flash helps you take photos in darkness. Historically, flashes have worked in all manner of ways – using burning magnesium or xenon lamps for example. For this Hackaday Prize entry, [Yann Guidon] is developing a portable flash using LEDs instead.

By this point in time, you might be familiar with LEDs as flash units from your cellphone. However, [Yann] is taking this up a notch. The build is based around 100W LED modules, which obviously can pump out a lot of light. The interesting part of the build is its dual nature. The LEDs are intended to operate in one of two ways. The first is in a continuous lighting mode, running the modules well below their rated power to reduce the stress on the LEDs and power supply, and to enable the flash to run on the order of an hour. In this mode, temperature feedback will be used to control the LEDs to manage power use. The other is a pulsed mode, where the LED will be overvolted for a period of milliseconds to create a much more powerful flash.

It’s this dual nature which gives the LED-based flash a potential advantage over less versatile xenon-based units, which are limited to pulsed operation only. We can see the continuous lighting mode being particularly useful for videographers needing a compact, cheap lighting solution that can also work as a pulsed unit as well.We’re excited to see how [Yann] tackles the packaging, thermal and control issues as this project develops!

Manhattan Marauder’s Map

If you solemnly swear that you are up to no good, and you happen to spend most of your time in Manhattan below the mid-90s, then you will appreciate this Raspberry Pi-based Manhattan Marauder’s Map.

Not that a Harry Potter-themed map was necessarily [GawkyFuse]’s intention when creating this interesting build; it’s just that the old-time print of Manhattan — it shows Welfare Island in the East River, which was renamed Roosevelt Island in 1971 — lends a nice vintage feel to the build. Printed on plain paper, the map overlays a 64×32-LED matrix, which is driven by a matrix HAT riding atop the Pi 3.

[GawkyFuse] uses the OwnTracks app on his and his wife’s iPhone to report their locations back to CloudMQTT. The Pi subscribes to the broker and updates his location in red and her location in blue as they move about the city; a romantic touch is showing a single purple dot when they’re together. There’s no word on what’s displayed when either leaves the map area, but the 2048-pixel display offers a lot of possibilities.

We’ve seen a Weasley clock or two around these parts before, but strangely no Marauder’s Maps like this one. Although this Austrian tram-tracking map comes pretty close to [GawkyFuse]’s nice design.

[via r/raspberry_pi]

Pi Time – A Fabric RGB Arduino Clock

Pi Time is a psychedelic clock made out of fabric and Neopixels, controlled by an Arduino UNO. The clock started out as a quilted Pi symbol. [Chris and Jessica] wanted to make something more around the Pi and added some RGB lights. At the same time, they wanted to make something useful, that’s when they decided to make a clock using Neopixels.

Neopixels, or WS2812Bs, are addressable RGB LEDs , which can be controlled individually by a microcontroller, in this case, an Arduino. The fabric was quilted with a spiral of numbers (3.1415926535…) and the actual reading of the time is not how you are used to. To read the clock you have to recall the visible color spectrum or the rainbow colors, from red to violet. The rainbow starts at the beginning of the symbol Pi in the center, so the hours will be either red, yellow, or orange, depending on how many digits are needed to tell the time. For example, when it is 5:09, the 5 is red, and the 9 is yellow. When it’s 5:10, the 5 is orange, the first minute (1) is teal, and the second (0) is violet. The pi symbol flashes every other second.

There are simpler and more complicated ways to perform the simple task of figuring out what time it is…

We are not sure if the digits are lighted up according to their first appearance in the Pi sequence or are just random as the video only shows the trippy LEDs, but the effect is pretty nice:

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An Interactive Oasis At Burning Man

An oasis in the desert is the quintessential image of salvation for the wearied wayfarer. At Burning Man 2016, Grove — ten biofeedback tree sculptures — provided a similar, interactive respite from the festival. Each tree has over two thousand LEDs, dozens of feet of steel tube, two Teensy boards used by the custom breath sensors to create festival magic.

Grove works like this: at your approach — detected by dual IR sensors — a mechanical flower blooms, meant to prompt investigation. As you lean close, the breath sensors in the daffodil-like flower detect whether you’re inhaling or exhaling, translating the input into a dazzling pulse of LED light that snakes its way down the tree’s trunk and up to the bright, 3W LEDs on the tips of the branches.

Debugging and last minute soldering in the desert fixed a few issues, before setup — no project is without its hiccups. The entire grove was powered by solar-charged, deep-cycle batteries meant to least from sunset to sunrise — or close enough if somebody forgot to hook the batteries up to charge.

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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.

Flux Capacitor Prop With Christopher Lloyd’s Stamp Of Approval

We love our props here at Hackaday, and whenever we come across a piece from the Back To The Future fandom, it’s hard to resist showcasing it. In this case, [Xyster101] is showing of his build of Doc Brown’s Flux Capacitor.

[Xyster101] opted for a plywood case — much more economical than the $125 it would have cost him for a proper electrical box. Inside, there’s some clever workarounds to make this look as close as possible to the original. Acrylic rods and spheres were shaped and glued together to replicate the trinity of glass tubes, 3/4″ plywood cut by a hole saw mimicked the solenoids, steel rods were sanded down for the trio of points in the centre of the device and the spark plug wires and banana connectors aren’t functional, but complete the look. Including paint, soldering and copious use of hot glue to hold everything in place, the build phase took about thirty hours.

The LEDs have multiple modes, controlled by DIP switches hidden under a pipe on the side of the box. There’s also motion sensor on the bottom of the case that triggers the LEDs to flicker when you walk by. And, if you want to take your time-travel to-go, there’s a nine volt plug to let you show it off wherever — or whenever — you’re traveling to. Check out the build video after the break.

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