L3D Cube Takes the Work out of Building an LED Cube

Building an LED cube usually means a heck of a lot of delicate soldering work. Bending jigs, assembly jigs, and lots of patience are the name of the game. The problem multiplies if you want to build with RGB LEDs. [Shawn and Alex] are hoping to change all that with their L3D cube. Yes, L3D is a Kickstarter campaign, but it has enough good things about it that we’re comfortable featuring it here on Hackaday. What [Shawn and Alex] have done is substitute WS2812b surface mount LEDs for the 5mm  or 3mm through hole LEDs commonly used in cubes. The downside is that the cube is no longer visible on all sides. The upside is that it becomes a snap to assemble.

The L3D cube is open source hardware. The source files are available from separate software and hardware Github repositories. Not next week, not when they hit their funding goal, but now. We seriously like this, and hope all crowdfunding campaigns go this route.

The L3D cube uses an open source Spark Core as its processor and WiFi interface. Using WS2812b’s means less I/O pins, and no LED driver chips needed. This makes it perfect for a board like Spark or Arduino.  On the software side, the team has created a Processing Library which makes it easy to create animations with no coding necessary.

L3D has all the features one would expect from an LED cube – a microphone for ambient sound visualizations, and lots of built in animations. It seems [Shawn and Alex] have also created some sort of synchronization system while allows multiple cubes to work together when stacked. The team is hoping someone will come up with a 3D printed light diffuser to make these cubes truly a 360 degree experience.

The L3D cube campaign is doing well, [Shawn and Alex] are close to doubling their $38,000 goal. Click past the break to check out their Kickstarter video!

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Scare off Squirrels and Tweet about It with the Jack-O’-Lantern Warning System

[Stephpalm] had carved a pumpkin for the first time in two decades. Unfortunately, the neighborhood squirrels were all too pleased with her work and devoured it. Her original goal for the jack-o’-lantern was to have its lights controlled over the internet. These hungry critters inspired another project instead – The Jack-’o’-Lantern Squirrel Early Warning System. There have been hacks that have dealt with pesky squirrels before, such as a trap and an automatic water turret, but they didn’t have the ability to post to social media like this system does.

The system consists of a Spark Core, a passive infrared (PIR) sensor, and a piezo buzzer. When the motion sensor is triggered the buzzer sounds, scaring away any peckish creatures lurking nearby. [Stephpalm] used an NPN transistor and 1k-Ohm resistor to provide enough current to drive the buzzer. All of these components were connected using jumper wires and a breadboard that sits on top of the pumpkin. As a nod to her original idea, [stephpalm] then created “Pumpkin Watch Code” and loaded it into the Core. It posts preset messages to a Twitter account every 45 minutes of inactivity or whenever a pesky squirrel is detected. The messages can be personalized for anyone who wants to make one of these themselves.

We wonder if it would be better to place the breadboard inside the jack-o’-lantern and carve out a couple of holes on top for the PIR sensor’s wires to come out of. That would offer some protection from the elements and prevent it from getting knocked over. We think this project could be adapted for many other uses. After the break, see a video of the system in action!

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Internet-Connected TI-84

Just before the days where every high school student had a cell phone, everyone in class had a TI graphing calculator. In some ways this was better than a cell phone: If you wanted to play BlockDude instead of doing trig identities, this was much more discrete. The only downside is that the TI calculators can’t easily communicate to each other like cell phones can. [Christopher] has solved this problem with his latest project which provides Wi-Fi functionality to a TI graphing calculator, and has much greater aspirations than helping teenagers waste time in pre-calculus classes.

The boards are based around a Spark Core Wi-Fi development board which is (appropriately) built around a TI CC3000 chip and a STM32F103 microcontroller. The goal of the project is to connect the calculators directly to the Global CALCnet network without needing a separate computer as a go-between. These boards made it easy to get the original Arduino-based code modified and running on the new hardware.

After a TI-BASIC program is loaded on the graphing calculator, it is able to input the credentials for the LAN and access the internet where all kinds of great calculator resources are available through the Global CALCnet. This is a great project to make the math workhorse of the classroom even more useful to students. Or, if you’re bored with trig identities again, you can also run a port of DOOM.

Hardware Startup Review: Spark

The Hardware Startup Review - Spark - Hackaday-01

Like it or not, a whole new wave of Hardware Startups is coming our way. Crowd Funding campaigns are making it possible for everyone with an idea to “test the waters”, tech-savvy Angel investors are eager to help successful ones cross over, and Venture Capitalists are sitting on the other side, always on the lookout for potential additions to their “hardware portfolio”. It’s these billion-dollar acquisitions that made everyone jump on the bandwagon, and there’s no going back. At least for now.

That’s all great, and we want to believe that good things will come out of this whole frenzy. But instead of staying on the sidelines, we thought Hackady should get involved and start asking some hard questions. After all, these guys didn’t think they’d be able to get away with some nicely produced videos and a couple of high-res photos, right?

For our first issue, we picked a relatively innocent target – Spark, the team behind the Spark Core development board. By embracing Open Source and Open Hardware as the core part of their strategy, Spark has so far been a positive example in the sea of otherwise dull (and potentially creepy) IoT “platforms”. So we thought we should give [Zach Supalla], CEO of Spark a call.

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Sci-Fi Contest Prize Acquisition Issues — Oh Noes!

sci-fi-contest-prize-woes

We spent quite a bit of time picking out prizes for the Sci-Fi contest. But wouldn’t you know it, literally the day after announcing the contest we cued up The Amp Hour and heard about a worldwide stock shortage (34:00) of BeagleBone Black boards. About a week later Adafruit ran an explanation of the issues. It became clear why we were having issues sources a quintet of boards so that we could deliver on our prize offer.

To further compound problems we a somewhat smaller issue sourcing Spark Core boards. We put in an order for a quintet of them when we posted the contest; at the time they were supposed to be shipping in late March, but now shipping estimates have been delayed to mid-April. Assuming no more delays these should be available by the time the contest ends at the end of April so keep your fingers crossed.

We have a good relationship with the folks over at Spark Core and can probably ask them to help us out if we do get in a bind. But we don’t think anyone is going to be able to deliver the BeagleBone Black boards (which we have on backorder) in time for the end of the contest. So here’s the deal: if you win and really want these exact boards in the prize package you select, we’re going to do what needs to be done to get it for you, eventually. If you don’t want to wait and there is a suitable alternative we’ll make that happen.

We wondered what people are doing if they don’t want to wait out these shortages. Are there any other open-hardware projects that are similar in price and functionality? Our gut says no (that’s why they’re in such high demand). But we’d love to hear about some alternatives. Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Why Kickstarter projects are always delayed

Most Hackaday readers may remember the Spark Core, an Arduino-compatible, Wi-Fi enabled, cloud-powered development platform. Its Kickstarter campaign funding goal was 10k, but it ended up getting more than half a million. The founder and CEO of Spark [Zach Supalla] recently published an article explaining why Kickstarter projects are always delayed as the Spark core project currently is 7 weeks behind schedule.

[Zach] starts off by mentioning that most founders are optimistic, making them want to embark in this kind of adventure in the first place. In most presentation videos the prototypes shown are usually rougher than they appear, allowing the presenters to skip over the unfinished bits. Moreover, the transition from prototype to “manufacturable product ” also adds unexpected delays. For example, if a product has a plastic casing it is very easy to 3D print the prototype but much harder to setup a plastic injection system. Last, sourcing the components may get tricky as in the case of Spark core the quantities were quite important. Oddly enough, it was very hard for them to get the sparkcore CC3000 Wifi module.