Stair accent lights made from cheap LED strips

We really like [Geert's] take on accent lighting for his stairs. He built his own LED channels which mount under the bullnose of each step. The LED strips that he used are actually quite inexpensive. They are RGB versions, but the pixels are not individually addressable. This means that instead of having drivers integrated into the strip (usually those use SPI for color data) this strip just has a power rail and three ground rails for the colors. Ten meters of the strip cost him under forty dollars.

He did want to be able to address each step separately, as well as mix and match colors, so he designed the driver board seen above to use a set of TLC5940 LED drivers. These are controlled by the Arduino which handles color changing and animations. It will eventually include sensors to affect the LEDs as you walk up the stairs. Each strip is mounted in a piece of angle bracket, and they’re connected back to the driver board using telephone extension wire.

Floppy drive as an audio sampler

Here’s a floppy drive which is being used as an audio sampler. At first glance we thought this was another offering which drives the stepper motor at a specific frequency to generate that characteristic sound at a target pitch. But that’s not what’s happening at all. The floppy is actually being used as a storage device (go figure).

From what we can tell, it’s being used almost like an 8-track tape. A PWM signal is stored on one circular slice of the disk, then the head can be moved back to that same “track” to play back the wave form. The head doesn’t move during playback, but just keeps reading the same track of bits. To the right you can see an Arduino board. This allows for MIDI control of the track selection. [Alexis] shows off some keyboard control in the video after the break. There’s a buffer chip on the breadboard which allows the audio output to be quickly switched off as the floppy drive head is moved. This keeps garbage out of the sound until the new track can be read.

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Repair a misbehaving motor controller board

It can be a real drag to fix a circuit board which has stopped working as intended, especially if you don’t have any reference material for the product. That’s the position that [Todd Harrison] found himself in when the controller for his mini-lathe gave up the ghost. He undertook and hefty repair process and eventually mapped out and repaired the driver board.

First off, we’re happy to report his success at the end of a year-long troubleshooting process; the entirety of which occupies six different posts. The link at the top is the conclusion, and you’ll find his final test video after the break. But as you can see from the image above, he was met with a lot of problems along the way. The first two segments show him reverse engineering the PCB, with a giant schematic coming out of the process. In part 3 he then started probing the board while it was live, with the smell of hot electronics causing him to disconnect the power every thirty seconds. One time he took too long and blew a resistor with the pictured results.

In the end it was a shorted PWM chip to blame. He tested a couple of different replacement options, dropped in the new part, and is now back in business. [Read more...]

Building a LED strip the minimal way

For his first big build with an MSP430, [Javon] decided to an RGB LED fader. Having worked with Arduinos in the past, he figured that his MSP430 would have a few PWM channels. After being proved wrong by the data sheet, [Javon] needed to figure out a way to switch a bunch of RGB LEDs with only one PWM channel on his microcontroller.

Because there was only one PWM pin on [Javon]‘s micro, he needed a way to multiplex his output. He ended up using a 74HC4052 mux/demux chip to drive 20 LEDs. The LEDs were mounted onto hard board and the main part of the circuit built on a bit of perfboard. While there’s no total cost for his build, we’re guessing [Javon] didn’t spend much on his project; certainty much less than this explosion of LEDs.

[Javon] put all the build pictures up as a Google+ album and a few video demos up. Check those out after the break (009 Sound System warning, you might want to hit mute).

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Dimming AC lights the hard way

It’s that time of year again where the thermometer drops, the sun sets earlier, and we try to warm our hearts with the solstice festival that is common in our own respective cultures. Of course we all need a few strings of lights, but wouldn’t it be great if we had PWM controlled dimmable lights?

When he started out on his PWM-controlled, AC-powered light box, [Waterbury] immediately realized that relays were not going to be an optimal solution. The best way out of the mess he dug himself into would be via zero crossing. After getting a transformer wired up to a transistor for the detection circuit, a short bit of code was written in the wee hours of the morning and a proof of concept was had.

With the control box complete, [Waterbury] hacked up a quick VB app and piped the output of a WinAmp visualizer into the lights via serial. The Inception demo was great, but finer-grain control was needed. After seeing a Hack a Day post on a nice equalizer chip, the seven band output on IC were converted to UART.

[Waterbury] took his seven-band AC-controlled light box to a Halloween party with his synth and the results looked awesome. You can check that out after the break, but we’re really waiting to see his Christmas decorations this year.

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Follow up: Star Wars tree gets an upgrade

star-wars-tree-sound

We asked, and [Zach] listened.

Earlier this week, we featured a circuit he built which allowed his tiny Star Wars Christmas tree to visually replicate the series’ theme song. Several of you, along with myself, thought it would be far cooler if the tree also played the music to accompany the light show, so [Zach] set off to add that functionality.

Worried that the music would get annoying if it played along with the lights constantly, he tweaked his circuit design to incorporate a piezo buzzer that could be easily switched on and off. After wiring it to the MSP430 driving the light show, he tweaked the program to output signals to both the light string and buzzer simultaneously.

While the light show accurately represented the song, he initially ignored flat and sharp notes as they would be indistinguishable to the eye. In audio form however, the missing notes would be glaringly obvious, so he re-transcribed the sheet music resulting in the video you see below.

If you happened to follow [Zach’s] lead and put one of these together in your own house, be sure to swing by his site and grab the latest code, complete with audio track.

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The force is strong with this Christmas tree light show

star-wars-christmas-tree

[Zach] is a huge Star Wars fan, and in addition to the array holiday decorations that adorn his house, he says that his wife is nice enough to let him put up a Christmas tree full of Star Wars ornaments. For the past few years, the tree sat in the corner of the room unlit, but his wife thought that it should have some lights this year.

His wife came home with a small string of battery-operated lights, but [Zach] wanted something with a bit more geek cred. He decided to program the lights to play the Star Wars theme song, translating the tune’s pitch to light intensity.

He dug through his bin of electronics and found an MSP430 along with a small target board that would do the job nicely. He sat down with some sheet music, translating the notes to PWM values, resulting in the light show you see below.

While his wife provided a lovely violin accompaniment to the tree, we think that a small audio module would make a great addition to the tree next year.

[Read more...]