Ask Hackaday: What About the Diffusers?

Blinky LED projects: we just can’t get enough of them. But anyone who’s stared a WS2812 straight in the face knows that the secret sauce that takes a good LED project and makes it great is the diffuser. Without a diffuser, colors don’t blend and LEDs are just tiny, blinding points of light. The ideal diffuser scrambles the photons around and spreads them out between LED and your eye, so that you can’t tell exactly where they originated.

We’re going to try to pay the diffuser its due, and hopefully you’ll get some inspiration for your next project from scrolling through what we found. But this is an “Ask Hacakday”, so here’s the question up front: what awesome LED diffusion tricks are we missing, what’s your favorite, and why?

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Beautiful Linear RGB Clock

Yup, another clock project. But here, [Jan] builds something that would be more at home in a modern art museum than in the dark recesses of a hacker cave. It’s not hard to read the time at all, it’s accurate, and it’s beautiful. It’s a linear RGB LED wall clock.

7512951486134540347You won’t have to learn the resistor color codes or bizarre binary encodings to tell what time it is. There are no glitzy graphics here, or modified classic timepieces. This project is minimal, clean, and elegant. Twelve LEDs display the hours, six and nine LEDs take care of the minutes in add-em-up-coded decimal. (It’s 3:12 in the banner image.)

The technical details are straightforward: WS2812 LEDs, an Arduino, three buttons, and a RTC. You could figure that out by yourself. But go look through the log about building the nice diffusing plexi and a very clean wall-mounting solution. It’s the details that separate this build from what’s hanging on our office wall. Nice job, [Jan].

Cheap LCD TV gets cheaper fix

Most hacks need some fair bit of skill and knowledge if you want to come out successful at the other end. Others, you just plunge in blindly with a “heck, it’s already broken so I can’t make it any worse” attitude. Throwing caution to the wind, you dive in, rip things up, and see if you can manage to catch the bull by the horns.

[Jim]’s cheap LCD TV, barely a few years old, died. It was purchased from the store whose blue polo-shirted cashiers can drive you nuts with their incessant questions. [Jim] just rolled up his sleeves and rather haphazardly managed to fix his TV while adding an extra feature along the way.

His initial check confirmed that the LCD panel worked. Using a flashlight, he could see that the panel was displaying video which meant it was the backlight that wasn’t working. Opening up the TV, he located the LED driver board whose output turned out to be zero volts. [Jim] happened to have a lot of WS2812B strips lying around, along with their power supplies and RGB color controllers. The obvious solution was to ditch the existing LEDs and power supply and use the WS2812B strips.

Surprisingly, the original backlight consisted of just 21 LEDs arranged in three rows. He ripped those out, put in the WS2812B strips, and taped the jumble of wires out of sight. After putting it back together, [Jim] was happy to see it worked, although the new strips were not as bright as the old ones, causing some uneven light bands. He solved this by adding a few more strips of LEDs. It took him a couple of hours to fix his TV, but by the end of it, he had a TV whose backlight could be adjusted to any color using the external color controllers — although we’re not too sure what good that would be.

World’s Smallest LED Cube – Again

There’s a new challenger on the block for the title of the “Worlds Smallest 4x4x4 RGB LED Cube“. At 13x13x36 mm, [nqtronix]’s Cube Pendant is significantly smaller than [HariFun’s] version, which measures in at about 17x17x17 mm just for the cube, plus the external electronics. It took about a year for [nqtronix] to claim this spot, and from reading the comments section, it seems [HariFun] isn’t complaining. The Cube Pendant is small enough to be used as a key fob, and [nqtronix] has managed to really cram a lot of electronics in it.

The LED’s used are 0606 RGB’s which are 1.6mm square, although he did consider using 0404’s before scrubbing the idea. There’s many ways of driving 192 IO’s, but in this case, Charlieplexing seemed like the best solution, requiring 16 IO’s. Unlike [HariFun]’s build, this one is fully integrated, with micro-controller, battery and everything else wrapped up in a case made entirely from PCB — inspired by [Voja Antonic]’s FR4 enclosure technique, and the LED array is embedded in clear resin.

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Another Desktop LED Xmas Tree!

We love it when someone takes inspiration from one of our posts and comes up with their own twist on it. [Matthew] liked one builds he saw on Hackaday so much, he built his own LED desktop Xmas tree!

[Matthew] was inspired by [designer2k2]’s DIY desktop Xmas tree that was posted in October. To get started, he found a set of concentric WS2812 rings over on Ali Express. The five rings total 93 LEDs, plus a single WS2812 for the top of the tree. He also got a laser cut tree model from Thingiverse and had it cut, combining the LED rings with the tree in the final product

The whole thing running on a Digispark USB Development Board from DigiStump, the same as the original project. There aren’t many details in the video, but [Matthew] has put links to where he got the rings and the tree, the laser cutting service, a link to the DigiStump website as well as a link to [designer2k2]’s original tree project. There’s no source code yet, but [Matthew] says a link to it is coming along with some more pictures.

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Just In Time For Christmas! A DIY Desktop LED Tree

Okay, we haven’t even hit Halloween yet, but if you’re planning some kind of holiday project, now’s a good time to start ordering your parts, especially if you’re designing your own PCB. While there’s no PCB involved, [designer2k2] built a desktop “hollow” Christmas tree using some WS2812 RGB LEDs controlled by a microcontroller and powered by USB.

The board running [designer2k2]’s project is a Digispark, a USB powered board by Digistump which contains an ATtiny85. The LEDs, four different sized NeoPixel rings, plus a single pixel for the top, are connected together using some solid wire which makes for a very cool look. The code that runs on the ATtiny is the part that really makes this tree. The code cycles through colors and some light chaser effects, as well as a mode that shows a green tree with some white lights. The whole project is topped off by a routine that spells “XMAS” as you look at the tree from the top down.

We’ve seen some other Christmas tree hacks over the years controlled by various things, but this one is a fairly simple, cool design. [Designer2k2] also released the code for the tree and I’m sure a lot of us could come up with some more light designs.

Check out the video after the break:

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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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