Christmas Lights Done the Hard Way

It’s that time of the year again when you gotta start worrying if you’ve been naughty enough to not receive any gifts. Hopefully, Blinky Lights will appease St. Nick. Grab a strip of RGB LEDs, hook them up to an Arduino and a Power supply, slap on some code, and Bob’s your Uncle. But if you want to retain your hacker cred, you best do it the hard way. Which is what [roddersblog] did while building his Christmas Starburst LED Stars this year — and bonus points for being early to the party.

christmas-lights-the-hard-wayFor starters, he got panels (as in PCB panels) of WS2812 boards from eBay. The advantage is it lets you choose your own pitch and strand length. The flip side is, you need to de-panel each board, mount it in a jig, and then solder three lengths of hook up wire to each LED. He planned for an eight sided star with ten LED’s each. And he built three of them. So the wiring was, substantial, to say the least. And he had to deal with silicone sealant that refused to cure and harden. But nothing that some grit and determination couldn’t fix.

For control, he choose the PIC16F1509 microcontroller. This family has a feature that PIC calls the “Configurable Logic Cell” and this Application Note describes how to use CLC to interface the PIC to a WS2811. He noticed processing delays due to C code overheads that caused him some grief. After some experimentation, he re-wrote the entire program in assembly which produced satisfactory results. You can check out his code on the GitHub repository.

Also well worth a look, he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve to improve the quality of his home-brew PCB’s. He’s built his own UV exposure unit with timer, which is an interesting project in itself. The layout is designed in Eagle, with a flood fill to minimize the amount of copper required to be etched away. He takes a laser print of the layout, applies vegetable oil to the paper to make it more translucent to UV, and doubles up the prints to get a nice contrast.

Once the sensitized board has been exposed in the UV unit, he uses a weak but fresh and warm solution of Sodium Hydroxide as a developer to remove the unexposed UV photo-resist. To etch the board, he uses standard Feric Chloride solution, which is kept warm using an aquarium heater, while an aquarium air-pump is used to agitate the solution. He also describes how he fabricates double sided boards using the same technique. The end result is quite satisfying – check out the video after the break.

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Exquisitely Crafted Nixie Tube Weatherclock

The Weatherclock is more than just a clock sporting Nixie tubes and neon lamps. There is even more to it than the wonderful workmanship and the big, beautiful pictures in the build log. [Bradley]’s Weatherclock is not only internet-connected, it automatically looks up local weather and sets the backlights of the numbers to reflect current weather conditions. For example, green for roughly room temperature, blue for cold, red for warm, flashing blue for rain, flashing white for lightning, scrolling white for fog and ice, and so on.

neonixieclock_02The enclosure is custom-made and the sockets for the tubes are seated in a laser-cut plastic frame. While seating the sockets, [Bradley] noticed that an Adafruit Neopixel RGB LED breakout board fit perfectly between the tube leads. By seating one Neopixel behind each Nixie indicator, each number could have a programmable backlight that just happened to look fabulous.

Witpreboxh an Electric Imp board used for WiFi the capabilities of the Weatherclock were rounded out on the inside. On the outside, a custom enclosure ties it all together. [Bradley] says his family had gotten so used to having the Weatherclock show them the outside conditions that they really missed it when it was down for maintenance or work – which shouldn’t happen much anymore as the project is pretty much complete.

It’s interesting to see new features in Nixie clocks. Nixie tubes have such enduring appeal that using them alone has its own charm, and at least one dedicated craftsman actually makes new ones from scratch.

Neopixels Light the Way in Pressure-Sensitive Floor

It’s got a little “Saturday Night Fever” vibe to it, but this pressure-sensitive LED floor was made for gaming, not for dancing.

Either way, [creed_bratton_]’s build looks pretty good. The floor is a 5×6 grid of thick HDPE cutting boards raised up on a 2×4 lumber frame. Each cell has a Neopixel ring and a single force-sensitive resistor to detect pressure on the pad. Two 16-channel multiplexers were needed to consolidate the inputs for the Arduino that’s running the show, and a whole bunch of wall warts power everything. The video below shows a little of the build and a look under the tiles. It’s not clear exactly what game this floor is for, but you can easily imagine a maze or some other puzzle that needs to be solved with footsteps.

Light-up floors are nothing new here, what with this swimming pool dance floor. But this interactive dance floor comes close to the gaming aspect of [creed_bratton_]’s build.

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Easy UFO Lights on your Drone for Halloween

Sometimes it’s not so much what you put together, it’s how you use it. The folks at Adafruit have put up a project on how to dress up your drone with ‘UFO lights’ just in time for Halloween. The project is a ring of RGB LEDs and a small microcontroller to give any quadcopter a spinning ‘tractor beam light’ effect. A 3D printed fixture handles attachment. If you’re using a DJI Phantom 4 like they are, you can power everything directly from the drone using a short USB cable, which means hardly any wiring work at all, and no permanent changes of any kind to the aircraft. Otherwise, you’re on your own for providing power but that’s probably well within the capabilities of anyone who messes with add-ons to hobby aircraft.

One thing this project demonstrates is how far things have come with regards to accessibility of parts and tools. A 3D printed fixture, an off-the-shelf RGB LED ring, and a drop-in software library for a small microcontroller makes this an afternoon project. The video (embedded below) also demonstrates how some unfamiliar lights and some darkness goes a long way toward turning the otherwise familiar Phantom quadcopter into a literal Unidentified Flying Object.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Neopixel Pocket Watch

A timepiece is rather a rite of passage in the world of hardware hacking, and we never cease to be enthralled by the creativity of our community in coming up with new ones.

Today’s example comes from [Joshua Snyder], who has made a pocket watch. Not just any pocket watch, he’s taken the shell of a clockwork watch and inserted a ring of Neopixels, which he drives  from an ESP8266 module. Power comes from a small LiPo battery, and he’s cleverly engineered a small push-button switch so that it can be actuated by the knob from the original watch. Different colour LEDs traverse the ring to simulate the hands of a traditional timepiece, and the whole nestles behind the perforated cover of the watch shell for something of a steampunk feel.

He admits the battery life is not very good at the moment, probably because for now the WiFi is always enabled so he can reach its web interface for debugging. Sadly he appears to have not yet posted the software, but he does tell us it uses NTP to update its time, and that it supports over-the-air updating for new versions. He suggests a future version might dispense with the ESP and use an ATtiny or similar with a real-time clock giving better battery life.

We’ve covered a lot of LED timepieces over the years, including quite a few watches. Only a small selection are this PIC LED ring in a pocket watch case, another LED ring this time powered by an ATMega645, and this very stylish OLED wristwatch.

Slim and Classy Word Clock Shows the Weather Too

Word clocks are a neat twist on traditional timepiece user interfaces. Spelling out the time with words and phrases rather than numerals fancies up a clock nicely. And if you add the current weather and forecast to the display, you get this attractive and handy word-based time and weather display.

For this clock, one of the many custom builds on [GMG]’s site that betray a certain passion for unusual timepieces, an 8×32 array of Neopixels lives behind a laser-cut sheet of steam-bent birch plywood. Each pixel is masked by either an alphanumeric character or an icon representing weather conditions. An ESP8266 fetches time and weather data and drives the display serially, controlling the color of each cell and building up the display. The video below shows the clock doing its thing.

Sure, we’ve featured plenty of word clocks before, even some with weather display, but we like the slim and understated design of this build. We’re particularly impressed by the lengths [GMG] took in packing as much capability into the 256-pixel display as possible, like the way “today” and “tomorrow” overlap. And if you’ve got an eye for detail, you might spot what gets displayed when it’s over 80° and 80% relative humidity.

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Beautiful Weather Station uses Acrylic, RGB LED, and and ESP8266

Everyone knows there’s form and there’s function. It isn’t fair, but people do judge on appearance, sometimes even overriding all other concerns. So while your Makerspace buddies might be impressed by your weather station built on a breadboard, your significant other probably isn’t. [Dennisv15] took an ordinary looking weather station design with a 0.96″ display and turned into an attractive desk piece with a much larger display and an artistic–and functional–enclosure.

The acrylic cloud lights up thanks to an RGB LED Neopixel strip and can indicate weather trends at a glance: red for warmer, blue for colder, flashing for inclement weather. The project was truly multidisciplinary, using a laser cutter to produce the body and the stand, a 3D-printed display bezel, and a PCB to make it easy to build.

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