Arduino Lighting Controller With Remote Twist

The time for putting up festive lights all around your house is nigh, and this is a very popular time for those of us who use the holiday season as an excuse to buy a few WiFi chips and Arduinos to automate all of our decorations. The latest in this great tradition is [Real Time Logic]’s cloud-based Christmas light setup.

In order to give public access to the Christmas light setup, a ESP8266 WiFi Four Relay board was configured with NodeMCU. This allows for four channels for lights, which are controlled through the Light Controller Server software. Once this is setup through a domain, all anyone has to do to change the lighting display is open up a web browser and head to the website. The creators had homeowners, restaurants, and church displays in mind, but it’s not too big of a leap to see how this could get some non-holiday use as well.

The holidays are a great time to get into the hacking spirit. From laser-projected lighting displays to drunk, animatronic Santas, there’s almost no end to the holiday fun, and you’ve still got a week! (Or 53!)

Cellular Automata Explorer

Well all know cellular automata from Conway’s Game of Life which simulates cellular evolution using rules based on the state of all eight adjacent cells. [Gavin] has been having fun playing with elementary cellular automata in his spare time. Unlike Conway’s Game, elementary automata uses just the left and right neighbors of a cell to determine the next cell ahead in the row. Despite this comparative simplicity, some really complex patterns emerge, including a Turing-complete one.

[Gavin] started off doing the calculations by hand for fun. He made some nice worksheets for this. As we can easily imagine, doing the calculations by hand got boring fast. It wasn’t long before his thoughts turned to automating his cellular automata. So, he put together an automatic cellular automator. (We admit, we are having a bit of fun with this.)

This could have been a quick software project but half the fun is seeing the simulations on a purpose-built ecosystem. The files to build the device are hosted on Thingiverse. Like other cellular automata projects, it uses LED matrices to display the data. An Arduino acts as the brain and some really cool retro switches from the world’s most ridiculously organized electronics collection finish the look of the project.

To use, enter the starting condition with the switches at the bottom. The code on the Arduino then computes and displays the pattern on the matrix. Pretty cool and way faster than doing it by hand.

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?

Continue reading “Using WS2811 Chip to Drive Incandescent Lamps”

Save a Couple Thousand Dollars with a DIY Remote Lighting System

When you don’t need the durability of a professional system, this DIY remote lighting system will do.

Pelican makes a great remote lighting system. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of great that comes with a “Request Quote” button instead of “Add to Cart”. It’s designed to be thrown in the back of a tank and guaranteed to work at the end of the day. [mep1811]’s system is not that system. It’s the store-in-a-Rubbermaid-tote and throw in the back of the family Honda kind of great, but it’s made from stuff you can buy anywhere.

The build is contained by a water resistant plastic box. Two sealed lead acids and a battery charger sit inside. The system is hooked together with simple car outlets — also known as the worst accidental electrical connector standard of all time. For the lights, [mep1811] simply made mounts for chinese LED spots and bought some inexpensive camera tripods. With a full charge, he says it runs for forty hours.

In the end it’s not a complicated hack, but its simplicity adds a certain amount of ruggedness, and it will definitely do the trick in a power outage.

Banish Dangerous Shadows Under Kitchen Cabinets

[nebulous] has a lot of problems with his kitchen cabinets. Aside from a noted lack of micro-controllers, he was especially suspicious of the dark spaces under them. Anything could be hiding there.

The core of the project is a $10 Arduino-compatible esp8266 board from digistump. The board is powered by the five volt regulator of an L298N motor driver module hooked to a power-supply. All this controls a set-of LED strips adhered to the underside of the cabinets with the traditionally bad adhesive strips with which they come standard. We can predict an hour spent bent awkwardly cursing at them, a hot-glue gun in one hand, in [nebulous]’s future. The whole set-up is housed in a SparkFun cardboard box above the microwave. You can barely tell it’s not a commercial product.

We’re not certain if we like a future where even our cabinetry has an IP address. However, this is a good weekend project that could make all our cabinetry brighter, safer, and more connected.

Display Your City’s Emotional State with Illuminated Snow

[Hunter] wanted to do something a bit more interesting for his holiday lights display last year. Rather than just animated lights, he wanted something that was driven by data. In this case, his display was based on the mood of people in his city. We’ve seen a very similar project in the past, but this one has a few notable differences.

The display runs off of an Arduino. [Hunter] is using an Ethernet shield to connect the Arduino to the Internet. It then monitors all of the latest tweets from users within a 15 mile radius of his area. The tweets are then forwarded to the Alchemy Sentiment API for analysis. The API uses various algorithms and detection methods to identify the overall sentiment within a body of text. [Hunter] is using it to determine the general mood indicated by the text of a given tweet.

Next [Hunter] needed a way to somehow display this information. He opted to use an LED strip. Since the range of sentiments is rather small, [Hunter] didn’t want to display the overall average sentiment. This value doesn’t change much over short periods of time, so it’s not very interesting to see. Instead, he plots the change made since the last sample. This results in a more obvious change to the LED display.

Another interesting thing to note about this project is that [Hunter] is using the snow in his yard to diffuse the light from the LEDs. He’s actually buried the strip under a layer of snow. This has the result of hiding the electronics, but blurring the light enough so you can’t see the individual LEDs. The effect is rather nice, and it’s something different to add to your holiday lights display. Be sure to check out the video below for a demonstration. Continue reading “Display Your City’s Emotional State with Illuminated Snow”

TweetHeart Shows You Some Love

[Stacey] wanted a more interesting way to monitor events related to her Twitter account. What she ended up with is a beautiful animated heart light.

TweetboxShe started out by designing the enclosure. Having access to a laser cutter, she opted to make it out of thin plywood. [Stacey] used an online tool called BoxMaker to design the actual box. The tool is very simple to use. You simply plug in the dimensions of the box and it will provide you with a two dimensional template you can use with your laser cutter. The resulting plywood pieces fit together like a puzzle. The heart piece is made from frosted acrylic and was also cut by the laser.

To light up the heart, [Stacey] opted to use NeoPixels. These are like many of the RGB LED strips we’ve seen in the past, though the pixel density is higher than most. She cut up the LED strip into the appropriate sizes and glued them to a piece of plywood in a rough heart shape. She tested the lights during each step so she would know exactly when any errors were made.

[Stacey] opted to use a SparkCore to control the LEDs. This had the advantage of including WiFi connectivity out of the box.  [Stacey] started with NeoPixel example programs, but quickly realized they all relied on the Delay function. This was a problem for her, because she needed to constantly watch for new Twitter events. She ended up having to write her own functions that relied on interrupts instead.

[Stacey] then wrote a Node.js script to monitor twitter and control the Spark. The script watches for specific events, such as one of [Stacey’s] tweets being re-tweeted, or a user unfollowing [Stacey]. The script then sends a message to the Spark to tell it which event just occurred. The Spark will then repeat the event until a new one occurs. Check out the demonstration video below. Continue reading “TweetHeart Shows You Some Love”