FPGA Powers Blazingly Fast LED Matrix Audio Visualizer

[Sam Miller], [Sahil Gupta], and [Mashrur Mohiuddin] worked together on a very fast LED matrix display for their final project in ECE 5760 at Cornell University.

Real time!
Real time!

They started, as any good engineering students, by finding a way to make their lives easier. [Sam] had built a 32×32 LED matrix for another class. So, they made three more and ended up with a larger and more impressive 64×64 LED display.

They claim their motivation was the love of music, but we have a suspicion that the true reason was the love all EEs share for unnaturally bright LEDs; just look at any appliance at night and try not be blinded.

The brains of the display is an Altera DE2-115 FPGA board. The code is all pure Verilog. The FFT and LED control are implemented in hardware on the FPGA; none of that Altera core stuff. To generate images and patterns they wrote a series of python scripts. But for us it’s the particle test shown in the video below that really turns our head. This system is capable of tracking and reacting to a lot of different elements on the fly why scanning the display at about 310 FPS. They have tested display scanning at twice that speed but some screen-wrap artifacts need to be worked out before that’s ready for prime time.

The team has promised to upload all the code to GitHub, but it will likely be a while before the success hangover blows over and they can approach the project again. You can view a video interview and samples of the visualizations in the videos after the break.

Thanks to their Professor, [Bruce Land], for submitting the tip! His students are always doing cool things. You can even watch some of his excellent courses online if you like: Here’s one on the AVR micro-controller.

Continue reading “FPGA Powers Blazingly Fast LED Matrix Audio Visualizer”

“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.

1768 LEDs, Because 96 Just Wasn’t Enough

Some people would look at a massive 6’x4′ LED matrix hanging on the wall playing animations and be happy with the outcome. But [Ben] just isn’t one of those people. The original FLED (Fantastic LED thingy) was eight rows of twelve addressable LEDs for a total of 96 pixels. This spring he upped his game and retrofitted the display with 1768 LEDs.

It wasn’t simply an issue of restlessness, the original build suffered from LEDs dying. We actually featured it for that reason as a Fail of the Week.  This is not strictly a hobby project, it’s hanging on the wall in the Supplyframe offices, so pulling it down frequently to fix broken parts is not ideal.

fled-reborn-LED-layoutTo make FLED more reliable [Ben] sourced strips of the new APA102 LEDs which we looked at back in December. They use an SPI bus instead of the bizarre timing scheme of the WS2812. At first glance you’d think this would mean easier assembly compared to soldering both sides of each of the original 96-pixels. These do come in strips, but laying out 52×34 still means soldering to the ends of each row.

A lot of love went into making sure those rows were laid out perfectly. A sheet of white foamed PVC serves as the substrate. There is grounding braid on either end of the rows, one is the voltage bus, the other is ground. It fits the original enclosure which is acrylic and does a great job of diffusing the light. I’ve seen it in person and it looks pretty much perfect!

It’s not just the physical layout of this many pixels that is a challenge. Pushing the data to all of them is much harder than it was with 96. [Ben] transitioned away from RaspberryPi. He considered using a Teensy 3.1 and ESP8266 but the WiFi of these cheap modules is far too slow to push frame information from a remote box. In the end it’s a BeagleBone Black that drives the reborn display. This is a great choice since there’s plenty of power under the hood and a traditional (and much faster) WiFi dongle can be used.

Don’t miss the animation demos found after the break.

Continue reading “1768 LEDs, Because 96 Just Wasn’t Enough”

Arduino Tetris on a Multiplexed LED Matrix

[Alex] needed a project for his microcomputer circuits class. He wanted something that would challenge him on both the electronics side of things, as well as the programming side. He ended up designing an 8 by 16 grid of LED’s that was turned into a game of Tetris.

He arranged all 128 LED’s into the grid on a piece of perfboard. All of the anodes were bent over and connected together into rows of 8 LED’s. The cathodes were bent perpendicularly and forms columns of 16 LED’s. This way, if power is applied to one row and a single column is grounded, one LED will light up at the intersection. This method only works reliably to light up a single LED at a time. With that in mind, [Alex] needed to have a very high “refresh rate” for his display. He only ever lights up one LED at a time, but he scans through the 128 LED’s so fast that persistence of vision prevents you from noticing. To the human eye, it looks like multiple LED’s are lit up simultaneously.

[Alex] planned to use an Arduino to control this display, but it doesn’t have enough outputs on its own to control all of those lights. He ended up using multiple 74138 decoder/multiplexer IC’s to control the LED’s. Since the columns have inverted outputs, he couldn’t just hook them straight up to the LED’s. Instead he had to run the signals through a set of PNP transistors to flip the logic. This setup allowed [Alex] to control all 128 LED’s with just seven bits, but it was too slow for him.

His solution was to control the multiplexers with counter IC’s. The Arduino can just increment the counter up to the appropriate LED. The Arduino then controls the state of the LED using the active high enable line from the column multiplexer chip.

[Alex] wanted more than just a static image to show off on his new display, so he programmed in a version of Tetris. The controller is just a piece of perfboard with four push buttons. He had to work out all of the programming to ensure the game ran smoothly while properly updating the screen and simultaneously reading the controller for new input. All of this ran on the Arduino.

Can’t get enough Tetris hacks? Try these on for size.

What is the Matrix…Clock?

We’re surprised we haven’t seen this kind of clock before, or maybe we have, but forgot about it in the dark filing cabinets of our minds. The above picture of [danjhamer’s] Matrix Clock doesn’t quite do it justice, because this is a clock that doesn’t just tick away and idly update the minutes/hours.

matrix clock

Instead, a familiar Matrix-esque rain animation swoops in from above, exchanging old numbers for new. For the most part, the build is what you would expect: a 16×8 LED Matrix display driven by a TLC5920 LED driver, with an Arduino that uses a DS1307 RTC (real-time clock) with a coin cell battery to keep track of time when not powered through USB. [danjhamer] has also created a 3D-printed enclosure as well as added a piezo speaker to allow the clock to chime off customizable musical alarms.

You can find schematics and other details on his Hackaday.io project page, but first, swing down below the jump to see more of the clock’s simple but awesome animations.

Continue reading “What is the Matrix…Clock?”

Micro Word Clock

A word clock – a clock that tells time with words, not dials or numbers – is one of those builds that’s on every Arduino neophyte’s ‘To Build’ list. It’s a bit more complex than blinking a LED, but an easily attainable goal that’s really only listening to a real time clock and turning a few LEDs on and off in the right pattern.

One of the biggest hurdles facing anyone building a word clock is the construction of the LED matrix; each LED or word needs to be in its own light-proof box. There is another option, and it’s something we’ve never seen before: you can just buy 8×8 LED matrices, so why not make a word clock out of that? That’s what [Daniel] did, and the finished project is just crying out to be made into a word watch.

[Daniel]’s word clock only uses eight discrete components: an ATMega328p, a DS1307 real time clock, some passives, and an 8×8 LED matrix. A transparency sheet with printed letters fits over the LED matrix forming the words, and the entire device isn’t much thicker than the LED matrix itself.

All the files to replicate this build can be found on [Daniel]’s webpage, with links to the Arduino code, the EAGLE board files, and link to buy the board on OSH Park.

Building A True Unix Keyboard


compact keyboards that do away with a third of the keys you would usually find on a normal-sized keyboard are all the rage now, but for [jonhiggs], they weren’t good enough. There is a long tradition of Unix shortcuts these compact keyboards don’t pay attention to – CTRL-A being the Home key, and CTRL-D being the Page Down key. To fix this horrible oversight of Unix history, [jon] tore apart one of these compact keyboards, rewired the switch matrix, and made his own perfect keyboard.

The keyboard [jon] is using is a Filco Minila, a very nice and high quality keyboard in its own right.  After mapping out the switch matrix, [jon] wired all the switches up to a Teensy 2.0 loaded up with the TMK firmware. This is a pretty standard way of building a custom keyboard, and [jon] could have just cut a switch plate and installed panel-mount switches and wired up the matrix and diodes point to point. The case for the keyboard is constructed out of Lego.

Because this is a true, modern Unix keyboard, [jon] needed to connect this keyboard to a box running his *nix of choice. He’s doing this in the most future-retro way possible, with an Amazon EC2 instance. This project isn’t done yet, and [jon] is hoping to add an ARM dev board, an iPad Retina display, battery, and SSD, turning this into a completely homebrew laptop designed around [jon]’s needs.