Documenting Poorly Documented LED Strips

While [Drew] was in China for the Dangerous Prototypes Hacker Camp, he picked up some very bright, very shiny, and very cheap LED strips. They’re 5 meter “5050” 12V strips with 20 LEDs per meter for about $15 a spool. A good deal, you might think until you look at the datasheet for the controller. If you want an example of how not to document something, this is it.

A normal person would balk at the documentation, whereas [Drew] decided to play around with these strips. He figured out how to control them, and his efforts will surely help hundreds in search of bright, shiny, glowy things.

You are expected to tell the difference between 'GMODE', 'OMODE' and 'CMODE' in this pinout.
You are expected to tell the difference between ‘GMODE’, ‘OMODE’ and ‘CMODE’ in this pinout.

The datasheet for the LPD6803 controller in this strip – available from Adafruit here – is hilarious. The chip takes in clocked data in the order of Green, Red, and Blue. If anyone can explain why it’s not RGB, please do so. Choice phrasing includes, “VOUT is saturation voltage of the output polar to the grand” and “it is important to which later chip built-in PLL regernate circuit can work in gear.” Apparently the word ‘color’ means ‘gray’ in whatever dialect this datasheet was translated into.

Despite this Hackaday-quality grammar, [Drew] somehow figured out how to control this LED strip. He ended up driving it with an LPC1768 Mbed microcontroller and made a demo program with a few simple animations. You can see a video of that below.

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A Hacker-Friendly Blinky USB Stick

The availability of Smart RGB LED’s, either as individual units, as strips or even as panels, have made blinky light projects with all kinds of color control and transition effects easy to implement using even the simplest of controllers. Libraries that allow control of these smart LEDs (or Smart Pixels as they are sometimes called)  make software development relatively easy.

[overflo] at the Metalab hackerspace in Vienna, Austria recently completed development of usblinky – a hacker friendly blinky USB stick. It can control up to 150 WS2812B smart LED’s when powered via an external power supply, or up to 20 LED’s when powered via a computer USB port. The micro-controller is an ATTiny85 running the Micronucleus bootloader which implements software USB using vUSB. The hardware is based on the DigiSpark platform. The usblinky software sources are available on their Github repo. The section on pitfalls and lessons learned makes for interesting reading.

Metalab plans to run workshops around this little device to get kids into programming, as it is easy enough and gives quick visual feedback to get you started. To round off the whole project, [overflo] used OpenSCAD to design a customizable, 3D printable “parametric orb” which can house the LED strip and make a nice enclosure or psychedelic night light. Check out the mesmerizing video of the usblinky Orb after the break.

Thanks to [papst] for sending in this tip.

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Mapping WiFi Signals in 3 Dimensions

[Charles] is on a quest to complete ever more jaw-dropping hacks with the popular low-cost ESP8266 WiFi modules. This week’s project is plotting WiFi received signal strength in 3D space. While the ESP8266 is capable of providing a Received Signal Strength Indication (RSSI), [Charles] didn’t directly use it. He wrote a simple C program on his laptop to ping the ESP8266 at around 500Hz. The laptop would then translate the RSSI from the ping replies to a color value, which it would then send to the ESP8266. Since the ESP8266 was running [Charles’] custom firmware (as seen in his WiFi cup project), it could directly display the color on a WS2812 RGB LED.

The colors seemed random at first, but [Charles] noticed that there was a pattern. He just needed a way to visualize the LED over time. A single frame long exposure would work, but so would video. [Charles] went the video route, creating SuperLongExposure, an FFMPEG-based tool which extracts every video frame and composites them into a single frame. What he saw was pretty cool – there were definite stripes of good and bad signal.

wifiPOVThumbArmed with this information, [Charles] went for broke and mounted his ESP8266 on a large gantry style mill. He took several long exposure videos of a 360x360x180mm area. The videos were extracted into layers. The whole data set could then be visualized with Voxeltastic, [Charles’] own HTML5/WEBGL based render engine. The results were nothing short of amazing. The signal strength increases and decreases in nodes and anti-nodes which correspond to the 12.4 cm wavelength of a WiFi signal. The final render looks incredibly organic, which isn’t completely surprising. We’ve seen the same kind of image from commercial antenna simulation characterization systems.

Once again [Charles] has blown us away, we can’t wait to see what he does next!

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Hackaday Links: February 1, 2015

It’s Sunday evening, and that means Hackaday Links, and that means something crowdfunded. This week it’s UberBlox. It’s a modular construction system based on Al extrusion – basically a modern version of an Erector set. Random musings on the perceived value UberBlox offers in the comments, I’m sure.

[Trevor] sent in something from his Etsy shop. Normally we’d shy away from blatant self-promotion, but this is pretty cool. It’s reproductions of 1960s Lockheed flying saucer plans. We’re not sure if this is nazi moon base/lizard people from the inner earth flying saucer plans or something a little more realistic, but there you go.

3D computer mice exist, as do quadcopters. Here’s the combination. It looks like there’s a good amount of control, and could be used for some aerobatics if you’re cool enough.

Who doesn’t love LED cubes? They’re awesome, but usually limited to one color. Here’s an RGB LED cube. It’s only 4x4x4, but there’s a few animations and a microphone with a beat detection circuit all powered by an ATMega32u4.

A while ago we had a post about a solar powered time lapse rig. Time lapse movies take a while, and the results are finally in.

RGB LED Matrices With The STM32 and DMA

A few years ago, [Frans-Willem] bought a few RGB LED panels. Ten 32×16 panels is a lot of LEDs, and to drive all of these panels requires some sufficiently powerful hardware. He tried working with an FPGA development board, but that didn’t have enough memory for 24-bit color. The microcontroller du jour – a TI Stellaris – couldn’t get more than 16 bits of color without flickering. With a bunch of LEDs but no way to drive them, [Frans-Willem] put the panels in a box somewhere, waiting for the day they could be used to their fullest capacity.

This day came when [Frans-Willem] was introduced to the STM32 series of chips with the F1 Discovery board. While looking for some electronic playthings to use with this board, he stumbled upon the LED panels and gave them one more try. The results are spectacular, with 33 bits of color, with animations streamed over a router over WiFi.

The panels in question are HUB75 LED panels. In the 32×8 panels, there are six data pins – two each for each color – four row select pins, and three control pins. The row select pins select which row of pixels is active at any one time. Cycle through them fast enough, and it will seem like they’re all on at once. The control pins work pretty much like the control pins of a shift register, with the data pins filling in the obvious role.

The code that actually drives the LEDs all happens on an STM32F4 with the help of DMA and FSMC, or the Flexible Static Memory Controller found on the chip. This peripheral takes care of the control lines found in memory, so when you toggle the write strobe the chip will dump whatever is on the data lines to a specific address in memory. It’s a great way to take care of generating a clock signal.

For sending pixels to this display driver, [Frans-Willem] is using the ever-popular TP-Link WR703N. He had originally planned to send all the pixel data over the USB port, but there was too much overhead, a USB 1.1 isn’t fast enough. That was fixed by using the UART on the router with a new driver and a recompiled version of OpenWRT.

All the software to replicate this project is available on Github, and there’s a great video showing what the completed project can do. You can check that out below.

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RGB Bike Rim Lights

[Yvo] sent us his latest creation, this awesome POV RGB bicycle rim light build, which features a circular interweaving of common RGB LEDs that face outward along the rim as they display constantly changing animations based on the wheel’s rpm.

Like many POV wheel builds, [Yvo]’s takes advantage of a hall effect sensor and stationary magnet to determine how fast the wheels are spinning. Unlike most POV builds, however, [Yvo’s] creation doesn’t have just one or two RGB sticks clamped onto a spoke. Instead, his wheels boast several individual RGB LED modules mounted along the rim.

Each wheel has six modules, and each module contains a scratch-build LED controller (a daisy chain of 74HC595 shift registers) that fits into a custom-made 3D-printed enclosure. The enclosures mounts onto some aluminum strips along with the RGB LEDs, and the aluminum strips mount to the wheels by straddling the rim.

At speed, the lights go into POV mode to simulate headlights / brakes with white in the front and red in the back. Check out the difference these custom circular modules make when riding and when at rest in a video below.

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FPGA Ambilight Clone Packs a Ton of Features

[Stephen] designed a standalone Ambilight clone built around an FPGA and recently added many new features to make his design even better. His original design was based around a Spartan 3-E FPGA, but his new design uses the Papilio One board with a Spartan-6 LX9 FPGA. This gives him dedicated DSP hardware and more RAM, allowing him to add more processing-intensive features.

[Steven]’s new board can drive up to 4096 LEDs total, and each LED is colored from one of 256 segmented screen areas. The output of the LEDs is smoothed over a configurable time period which makes the result a bit more pleasant. [Steven] also added color correction matrices and gamma correction tables to make up for differences in LED coloration and so the output can be fine-tuned to the color of the wall behind the TV.

Finally, [Steven] added multiple configurations which can be stored in Flash memory. The FPGA can detect letterboxes and pillarboxes in the video stream and change to a corresponding configuration automatically, so settings rarely need to be manually adjusted. He also added an extensive serial interface to configure all of the parameters and configurations in Flash. Be sure to check out the video after the break to see his setup in action.

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