Stealthy Mortar Board Unleashes Bling at Graduation Ceremony

Decorating graduation caps is often frowned upon by the administration but [Dan Barkus] is challenging his school authorities to keep from smiling when they see what he has in store. His build will dazzle the audience by mounting 1024 RGB LEDs in a 32×32 matrix on top of his cap, but hidden under the cap’s black cloth. When the LEDs are off he’s indistinguishable, and when he fires up the LEDs, shine through and put on a heck of a show. He can type messages on his phone to be displayed on the cap. He can even display images and animated GIFs.

LED array control components
LED array control components

The LED display is an Adafruit 32×32 RGB LED matrix panel.  To control the display, [Dan] uses a Teensy, a 32 bit ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller board. Wireless communication is done via a JBtek HC-06 Bluetooth board.

The LED display can draw up to 4 amps at full white brightness so he picked up a USB battery with two output ports, one capable of 2.1 amps and the other 2.4 amps. He then hacked together a cable that has two USB connectors on one end, connected in parallel, and a DC jack on the other end. Altogether the battery bank is capable of up to 4.5 amps output combined out those two ports, meeting the LED display’s needs. The DC jack is plugged into the Teensy and all power goes through there.

One problem [Dan] had was that the Bluetooth module was booting up before the Teensy. It didn’t see the Teensy in time, causing the Bluetooth not to work. The solution he found is shown in the 2nd video embedded below. The fix powers the Bluetooth module separately, using a current limiting resistor and a capacitor to build up the voltage, delaying just long enough for the Teensy to win.

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Fallout Inspired Cellphone Wristwatch

[Mr. Volt] mentions that some of the commenters on his videos believed that he shouldn’t be making large, retro computer themed communicator watches. He believes they are wrong, naturally we are compelled to agree with him.

thrumbzIn his latest build he has produced a rather well-built and large cell-phone watch. After the untimely death of an Apple II cellphone watch, he decided to up his game and make one that could take more of a beating. The case is 3D printed, which is hard to believe given the good finish. He must have spent a long time sanding the prints. Some wood veneer for looks and aluminum panels for strength complete the assembly.

The electronics are a Teensy and a GSM module. It looks like he places calls by calling the operator since the wrist communicator only has four inputs: a red button, a blue button, and a momentary switch rotary encoder.

The communicator appears to work really smoothly, and it would certainly draw attention to him were he to wear it anywhere other than the Wasteland. Video after the break.

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Teensy Gets A Prop Shield

God of microcontrollers and king of electrons [Paul Stoffregen] is famous for his Teensy microcontroller dev boards, and for good reason. If you have a project that does more than blink a few pins, but doesn’t need to run a full Linux build, any one of the Teensy dev boards are a great option. As a dev board, [Paul] has released a few ‘shields’ that add various functionality – for example the audio adapter board that is able to play CD quality audio and perform DSP and FFT operations. Now, [Paul] has launched a new shield designed for interactive light and sound effects on art installations and for the rest of the crew at Burning Man. It’s called the Prop Shield, and adds more sensors, audio amps, and blinkies than a Teensy has ever had.

The Teensy Prop shield is equipped with 10DOF motion sensors, including a FXOS8700 accelerometer/magnetometer, a FXAS21002 gyroscope, and an MPL3115 altimeter and temperature sensor. A two Watt LM48310 audio amplifier can drive 4 or 8 ohm speakers, and 8 Megabytes of Flash memory can hold all the data for audio or a very long string of APA102 individually addressable LEDs.

The combination of motion sensors, audio amplifiers, and LED drivers may seem like an odd combination, but this is a shield for very odd projects. Stage effect, wearables, and handheld props become very easy with this board, and haunted houses are about to get really cool. With the on-board Flash, this board makes for a very capable data logger, and although the altitude sensor only reads pressure up to about 40,000 feet, this could be a very handy board for high altitude balloons.

The Prop Shield is available now in [Paul]’s shop. There are two versions, one ‘wit’ the motion sensors for $19.50, and the other ‘witout’ motion sensors for $8.40. The distinction is based on the Philly Cheesesteak protocol.

For the last few weeks, [Paul] has put the prop shield in the hands of a few dozen beta testers. Their impressions are in a forum thread, and like all of [Paul]’s projects, the response has been very good.

Teensy 3.1 Controlled VFO

[Tom Hall], along with many hams around the world, have been hacking the Silicon Labs Si5351 to create VFOs (variable frequency oscillators) to control receivers and transmitters. You can see the results of his work in a video after the break.

vfo board[Tom] used a Teensy 3.1 Arduino compatible board, to control the Si5351 mounted on an Adafruit breakout board. An LCD display shows the current frequency and provides a simple interface display for changing the output. A dial encoder allows for direct adjustment of the frequency. The ham frequency band and the frequency increment for each encoder step are controlled by a joystick. When you get into the 10 meter band you definitely want to be able to jump by kHz increments, at least, since the band ranges from 28 MHz to 29.7 MHz.

So what is the Si5351? The data sheet calls it an I2C-Programmable Any-Frequency CMOS Clock Generator + VCXO. Phew! Let’s break that down a bit. The chip can be controlled from a microprocessor over an I2C bus. The purpose of the chip is to generate clock outputs from 8 kHz to 160 MHz. Not quite any frequency but a pretty good range. The VCXO means voltage controlled crystal oscillator. The crystal is 25 MHz and provides a very stable frequency source for the chip. In addition, the Si5351 will generate three separate clock outputs.

[Tom] walks through the code for his VFO and provides it via GitHub. An interesting project with a lot of the details explained for someone who wants to do their own hacks. His work is based on work done by others that we’ve published before, which is what hacking is all about.

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Rube Goldberg PC/Console Game Hack

There’s no holy war holier than establishing whether PC games are superior to console games (they are). But even so, there’s no denying that there are some good console titles out there. What if you’d still like to play them using a mouse and keyboard? If you’re [Agent86], you’d build up the most ridiculous chain of fun electronics to get the job done.

Now there is an overpriced off-the-shelf solution for this problem, and a pre-existing open-source project that’ll get the same job done for only a few bucks in parts. But there’s nothing like the fun in solving a problem your own way, with your own tangle of wires, darn it all! The details of the build span four (4!) pages in [Agent86]’s blog, so settle down with a warm cup of coffee.

Here’s the summary: an Xbox 360 controller is taken apart and turned into an Xbox controller. The buttons and joysticks are put under computer control via a Teensy microcontroller. GPIOs press the controller’s buttons, and digipots replace the analog sticks. Software on the Teensy drives the digipots and presses the buttons, interpreting a custom protocol sent over USB from the computer, which also gets some custom software to send the signals.

So if you’re keeping score: a button press on a keyboard is converted to USB, sent to a PC, converted to a custom serial protocol, sent to a Teensy which emulates a human for a controller that then coverts the signals back into the Xbox’s USB protocol. Pshwew!

Along the way, there’s learning at every stage, which is really the point of an exercise like this. And [Agent86] says that it mostly works, with some glitches in the mouse-to-joystick mapping. But if you’re interested in any part of this crazy chain, you’ve now got a model for each of them.


RGB LED Ceiling Display

yP8PoVDisco Floor’s are passé. [dennis1a4] turned them upside down and built an awesome RGB LED ceiling display using some simple hardware and a lot of elbow grease. His main room ceiling was exactly 32 ft x 20 ft and using 2 sq. ft tiles, he figured he could make a nice grid using 160 WS2812B RGB LEDs. A Teensy mounted in the ceiling does all the heavy lifting, with two serial Bluetooth modules connected to it. These get connected to two Bluetooth enabled NES game controllers. Each of the NES controller is stuffed with an Arduino Pro Mini, a Bluetooth module, Li-Ion battery and a USB charge controller.

Bluetooth is in non-secure mode, allowing him to connect to the Teensy, and control the LEDs, from other devices besides the NES controllers. The Teensy is mounted at the centre of the ceiling to ensure a good Bluetooth link. Programming required a lot of thought and time but he did manage to include animations as well as popular games such as Snake and Tetris.

LED_Ceiling_deadbugThe hard part was wiring up all of the 160 LED pixels. Instead of mounting the 5050 SMD LED’s on PCBs, [dennis1a4] wired them all up “dead bug” style. Each pixel has one LED, a 100nF decoupling capacitor, and 91 ohm resistors in series with the Data In and Data Out pins – these apparently help prevent ‘ringing’ on the data bus. Check the video for his radical soldering method. Each SMD LED was clamped in a machine shop vice, and the other three parts with their leads preformed were soldered directly to the LED pins.

The other tedious task was planning and laying out the wiring harness. Sets of 10 LEDs were first wired up on the shop bench. He then tacked them up to the ceiling and soldered them to the 14 gauge main harness. The final part was to put up the suspended ceiling and close the 2 sq. ft. grids with opaque plastic.

[dennis1a4]  did some trials to figure out the right distance between each LED and the panel to make sure they were illuminated fully without a lot of light bleeding in to adjacent panels. This allowed him to get away without using baffles between the tiles.

Check out the video to see a cool time-lapse of the whole build.

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Small-farm Automation Keeps Livestock Safe and Happy

Life down on the farm isn’t easy, and a little technology can go a long way to making things easier for the farmer. It’ll be a while before any farmer can kick back on the beach and run his place from a smartphone, but that’s clearly the direction things are heading with this small farm automation project.

1239891449500446540[Vince]’s livestock appears to consist of chickens and sheep at this point, and the fact that they share housing helped him to deploy some tech for both species. The chickens got an automated door that lets them out in the morning and shuts them in safely once they’ve returned to roost for the night – important protection against predators. The door is hoisted by a Somfy window-treatment motor, which seems a little on the overkill side to us; a thrift-store electric drill and a homebrew drum might have worked too. A Teensy with an RTC opens and closes the door according to sunrise and sunset times, and temperature and humidity sensors provide feedback on conditions inside the coop. The sheep benefit from a PTZ webcam to keep an eye on their mischief, and the whole thing is controlled by a custom web interface from [Vince]’s smartphone.

There’s just something about automating chicken coop doors that seems to inspire hackers; check out this nice self-locking design. As for [Vince]’s farm, it looks like his system has a lot of room for expansion – food and water status would be a great next step. We’re looking forward to seeing where he goes from here.