Look Out DotStar, Here Comes Lumenati

Adafruit has long been the undisputed ruler of the smart LED product, with their WS2812B (NeoPixel) and APA102C (DotStar) product lines dominating due to the robust assortment of sizes and form factors, as well as their ease of use. SparkFun Electronics recently announced Lumenati, their new line of APA102C breakouts that feature some intriguing features which do a good job of distinguishing the two lines.

First, the screen-printing on the boards include pixel numbers. We were working on NeoPixel assemblies the other day and keeping track of pixels was a nightmare. In addition, the Lumenati boards are meant to combine into larger creations, allowing you to make complicated shapes. SparkFun supports this by giving the boards castellated headers — far better than the solder pads! If you are running into logic conflicts with the boards you can solder in jumpers to bypass the data connections and control individual boards separately. On the down side, SparkFun’s intitial offerings — 6 products — still can’t compete with Adafruit’s, like their 255-LED disk, shields, strips, matrices, and flexible PCBs.

We’ve published a few DotStar builds over the years, like this violin bow lightsaber and the Magicshifter POV stick. Maybe we’ll start seeing some Lumenati builds?

24 thoughts on “Look Out DotStar, Here Comes Lumenati

    1. Don’t you get it, man! Like, it’s that way cause the Lumenati want’s it that way! It’s a secret plan to rid the world of original thought! Make everyone into sheeple, man! They just wanna make us all into blocks that snap together, just like all their stuff, man!

      1. I also remember a time when if people didn’t have quite the right tool or a tool they were not familiar with they could get the job done anyway. Now if they weren’t provided with the right breakout board with certain options or the right development environment they would sit there wide-eyed not knowing what to do. It gets a bit embarrassing when the candidate you are interviewing says that he has built so many projects from scratch but can’t calculate and select the current limiting resistor needed to safely light an LED.

        1. This in concerning, but I think the genie is out of the bottle at this point.

          In the same way a modern software developer would likely have no idea what to do if you sat him or her in front of a C64, the engineers of today (and tomorrow) expect plug and play modules, not passive components.

          1. It’s called “technology”. It has financial benefits, as well as the obvious hassle-reduction, and it’s the way things have always been done. There’s no point mining your own copper when you can buy it in handy spools of wire. It makes more complex stuff available to us, and makes it more reliable because the devilish details are taken care of in a high-tech factory somewhere, with proper testing, so we don’t have to worry about some tiny detail snafuing our inventions.

            It depends what you want out of making something. If you want credit for your awesome craftsman’s skills, fine, well done, you join the ranks of people who design with discrete components while the rest of us have stopped giving a shit and are playing with the benefits of modern technology, thrilled that stuff of the future we read about as kids has come to pass and is easy and cheap.

            There’s respect in being able to craft your own chairs from trees, but most people go to IKEA where it’s cheap, easy, and aesthetically pleasant.

            Neither is “better”. Since this whole thing is a hobby anyway, and despite what we tell ourselves, 90% of the point in making and inventing stuff is the fun of doing it, not it’s practical uses. Nobody’s hobby is intrinsically better than anyone else’s. Yrneh’s argument works exactly as well transposed 80 years ago, complaining about these Model T’s when in the old days people had to fabricate their own cars from sheet metal and bits of dissected gas oven. Or people just buying a TV to watch programmes on, without having to solder a single vacuum tube. The argument will still be here, in identical form, in a hundred years time. Unless people are all really wise then, and, like me, have figured it out.

    2. And when we wanted a resistor, we just got our pencil out and whittled the graphite down until the numbers seemed right; and don’t get me started on kids using microcontrollers where discreet logic would do…

      I’d agree, in the sense that someone who buys one of these, wires it to an Arduino, and gets some blinkenlights example code to run had ‘designed something’ in much the same way that assembling a few components from Newegg is ‘building a computer’; but in the sense of project/moral purity it seems misplaced: designing things has a very, very, long history of involving bolting together bits with some of the internal complexity done for you(even passives or having your solder actually be the alloy it claims to be; through ICs, SoCs, full modules of various flavors; and that is often a virtue. Reinventing the wheel wins you no points unless it’s a better wheel or because you want the learning experience; and if your needs are adequately closely matched by an available module your wheel is unlikely to be better. In this case, an LED grid isn’t exactly a huge challenge; but what do you gain by having to fabricate or wait for the PCB, make sure that your soldering is nice and even so the array doesn’t have any slightly skewed emitters, and so on?

      This can, obviously, change if you are building larger quantities of something; at which point better integration with your board, getting to choose exactly what you require for your purposes, etc. become much more important. But for some quantity-one project?

    3. Ah remember when people understood the difference between an electronics component seller and a prototype equipment seller?

      Sparkfun sells stuff for low volume or prototype production. I don’t have solder paste, a reflow oven, etc hanging around. Even the local hackerspace doesn’t.

  1. These things are like, 0.5 yuan each. They come in normal reels, and reels with the LEDs already hooked up so you can just snip off a few and connect them to an MCU.

    Sparkfun is super late to the party…but wow! Their boards have PIN HEADERS! What will they think of next

  2. Ha – there’s also the RasPiO InsPiRing boards (circles, triangles and straights, although they use SK9822 which are APA102 compatible. I like the way the Lumenati handles ‘chaining’ multiple boards together. Nice solution for permanent setups.

  3. Don’t Adafruit just sell the WS2812 LEDs? They don’t “own” them. I don’t think the success of the product is anything to do with them.

    What’s the chances that Sparkfun actually invented these new thingummys? Is that what you actually think is going on, John, or are you just really bad at writing?

    Anonymous Chinese electronic factories, undisputed ruler of blinky LED whatever! Hoorayyyyy!!!

  4. Hey Hackaday! Thanks for the post. Coupla (ok, 3) things about these boards…

    First, the castleated headers and the numbered LEDs were actually the ideas of Pete Lewis, who I worked with during the design of these boards. I want to make sure he gets credit for his effort.

    Second, it’s worth a mention that these boards were designed in KiCad. All the design files on Github are KiCad files. These are the first of many others tom come. Hey – it’s the quintessential tool of the open source community. Get with it or get out.

    Third, don’t take this the wrong way, but as far as competing with Adafruit goes, I really don’t pay much (any) attention to what they’re doing before I start a project. Sure we compete and I get that, but living life like a cut-throat business-type where all you’re trying to do is undercut the competition… that blows. I’ve lived that, and it doesn’t do much for your creativity or your outlook on life.

    Enjoy the boards. We’ve got a few other ideas for them kicking around, so you’ll prolly see more in the future.

  5. I’m not sure I understand the advantage of these boards. I have several times run an adafruit neopixel ring off a pair of AA batteries and an ATtiny85. They were always very simple and easy to work with. Skimming the documentation on these it looks like you need a separate board for the logic level translation, and then you need 2 pins instead of 1 for the data. So what is the advantage?

    I dunno, maybe these are just better for larger projects than what I usually take on.

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