Christmas Lights Done the Hard Way

It’s that time of the year again when you gotta start worrying if you’ve been naughty enough to not receive any gifts. Hopefully, Blinky Lights will appease St. Nick. Grab a strip of RGB LEDs, hook them up to an Arduino and a Power supply, slap on some code, and Bob’s your Uncle. But if you want to retain your hacker cred, you best do it the hard way. Which is what [roddersblog] did while building his Christmas Starburst LED Stars this year — and bonus points for being early to the party.

christmas-lights-the-hard-wayFor starters, he got panels (as in PCB panels) of WS2812 boards from eBay. The advantage is it lets you choose your own pitch and strand length. The flip side is, you need to de-panel each board, mount it in a jig, and then solder three lengths of hook up wire to each LED. He planned for an eight sided star with ten LED’s each. And he built three of them. So the wiring was, substantial, to say the least. And he had to deal with silicone sealant that refused to cure and harden. But nothing that some grit and determination couldn’t fix.

For control, he choose the PIC16F1509 microcontroller. This family has a feature that PIC calls the “Configurable Logic Cell” and this Application Note describes how to use CLC to interface the PIC to a WS2811. He noticed processing delays due to C code overheads that caused him some grief. After some experimentation, he re-wrote the entire program in assembly which produced satisfactory results. You can check out his code on the GitHub repository.

Also well worth a look, he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve to improve the quality of his home-brew PCB’s. He’s built his own UV exposure unit with timer, which is an interesting project in itself. The layout is designed in Eagle, with a flood fill to minimize the amount of copper required to be etched away. He takes a laser print of the layout, applies vegetable oil to the paper to make it more translucent to UV, and doubles up the prints to get a nice contrast.

Once the sensitized board has been exposed in the UV unit, he uses a weak but fresh and warm solution of Sodium Hydroxide as a developer to remove the unexposed UV photo-resist. To etch the board, he uses standard Feric Chloride solution, which is kept warm using an aquarium heater, while an aquarium air-pump is used to agitate the solution. He also describes how he fabricates double sided boards using the same technique. The end result is quite satisfying – check out the video after the break.

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7 Segment Display Using Neopixel Rings

There’s something about clocks — sooner or later, every hacker wants to build one. And we end up seeing all kinds of display techniques being used to show time. For the simplest of builds, 7-segment display modules usually get dug up from the parts bin. If you have a bunch of “smart” LED’s (WS2812’s, APA102’s), then building your own custom 7-segment modules isn’t too difficult either. [rhoalt] had neither, but he did have several 8 LED Neopixel rings lying around. So he thought of experimenting with those, and built a ‘Binoctular’ LED clock which uses the Neopixel rings as 7 segment displays.

figure-eight-segment-displaysEach digit is made using one pair of Neopixel rings, stacked to form a figure of eight. All the digits are composed of arcs, so readability isn’t the best but it’s not hard either. [rhoalt] does mention that the display is easier to read via blurred camera images rather than visually, which isn’t surprising. We’re long used to seeing numbers composed of straight line segments, so arc segmented digits do look weird. But we wouldn’t have known this if [rhoalt] hadn’t shown us, right ? Maybe a thicker diffuser with separator baffles may improve the readability.

The rest of the build is pretty plain vanilla — an Arduino Nano clone, a DS3231 RTC, a Lithium battery, and some buttons, all housed together in a laser cut enclosure which follows the figure of eight design brief. And as usual, once you’ve built one, it’s time to improve and make a better version.

Driving 16 WS2812B Strips with GPIOs and DMA

[Martin Hubáček] wrote in with his WS2812 LED library for the STM32F3 series processors. [Martin]’s library takes the same approach as [Paul Stoffregen]’s OctoWS2811 for the Teensy, and [Erich Styger]’s for the Freescale FRDM-K64F board. That is, it uses three DMA channels to get the signal out as fast as possible.

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Realize the Truth… There Is No Word Clock

Do you always look at it encoded? – Well you have to. The image translators work for the construct program.

Word clocks are supposed to de-encode time into a more readable format. Luckily [Xose Pérez] managed to recover the encoded time signal of the simulation we are all living in with his word clock that displays time using a stylish Matrix code animation.

[Xose] already built his own versions of [Philippe Chrétien’s] Fibonacci Clock and [Jeremy Williams’s] Game Frame, and while doing so he designed a nice little PCB. It’s powered by an ATmega328p, features an RTC with backup battery, an SD-card socket, and it’s ready to drive a bunch of WS2812Bs aka NeoPixels. Since he still had a few spare copies of his design in stock, his new word clock is also driven by this board.

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RGB LEDs: How to Master Gamma and Hue for Perfect Brightness

You would think that there’s nothing to know about RGB LEDs: just buy a (strip of) WS2812s with integrated 24-bit RGB drivers and start shuffling in your data. If you just want to make some shinies, and you don’t care about any sort of accurate color reproduction or consistent brightness, you’re all set.

But if you want to display video, encode data in colors, or just make some pretty art, you might want to think a little bit harder about those RGB values that you’re pushing down the wires. Any LED responds (almost) linearly to pulse-width modulation (PWM), putting out twice as much light when it’s on for twice as long, but the human eye is dramatically nonlinear. You might already know this from the one-LED case, but are you doing it right when you combine red, green, and blue?

It turns out that even getting a color-fade “right” is very tricky. Surprisingly, there’s been new science done on color perception in the last twenty years, even though both eyes and colors have been around approximately forever. In this shorty, I’ll work through just enough to get things 95% right: making yellows, magentas, and cyans about as bright as reds, greens, and blues. In the end, I’ll provide pointers to getting the last 5% right if you really want to geek out. If you’re ready to take your RGB blinkies to the next level, read on!

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540 LEDs On A Geodesic Sphere

[burgerga] loves attending Music Festivals. He’s also a MechE who loves his LED’s. He figured he needed to put it all together and do something insane, so he build a huge, 15″ geodesic sphere containing 540 WS2812B addressable LED’s. He calls it the SOL CRUSHER. It sips 150W when all LED’s are at full intensity, making it very, very, bright.

As with most WS2812B based projects, this one too is fairly straightforward, electrically. It’s controlled by four Teensy 3.2 boards mounted on Octo WS2811 adapter boards. Four 10,000 mAh 22.2V LiPo batteries provide power, which is routed through a 5V, 30Amp heatsinked DC-DC converter. To protect his LiPo batteries from over discharge, he built four voltage monitoring modules. Each had a TC54 voltage detector and an N-channel MOSFET which switches off the LiPo before its voltage dips below 3V. He bundled in a fuse and an indicator, and put each one in a neat 3D printed enclosure.

The mechanical design is pretty polished. Each of the 180 basic modules is a triangular PCB with three WS2812B’s, filter capacitors, and heavy copper pours for power connections. The PCB’s are assembled in panels of six and five units each, which are then put together in two hemispheres to form the whole sphere. His first round of six prototypes set him back as he made a mistake in the LED footprint. But it still let him check out the assembly and power connections. For mechanical support, he designed an internal skeleton that could be 3D printed. There’s a mounting frame for each of the PCB panels and a two piece central sphere. Fibreglass rods connect the central sphere to each of the PCB panels. This lets the whole assembly be split in to two halves easily.

It took him over six months and lots of cash to complete the project. But the assembly is all done now and electrically tested. Next up, he’s working on software to add animations. He’s received suggestions to add sensors such as microphones and accelerometers via comments on Reddit. If you’d like to help him by contributing animation suggestions, he’s setup a Readme document on Dropbox, and a Submission form. Checkout the SolCrusher website for more information.

Thanks [Vinny Cordeiro], for letting us know about this build.

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Easy LED Panel

Imagine how impressed your friends will be when you tell them about your homebrew 4K LED panel. Just don’t tell them it is a 64X64 grid. (Hey, that’s 4K LEDs total!) We’ll keep your secret. [Tom Nelson] has a good write up on how to create such a panel from 16X16 WS2812B panels.

At first glance, this doesn’t sound like a tough project. But if you read [Tom’s] log, you’ll see that he has a lot of good advice about heat management and the use of a diffuser to get good performance. The build uses several ECG-P2-2 controllers, plus it is mechanically neatly done.

The 64 cm square array is a precursor to a planned 128X128 display that [Tom] wants to build. He mentions he will release the custom driver software for the panel, so check his site for more details. We’ve seen some panels and diffusers before if you want to start with something smaller and work your way up.