As a lover of lava lamps, [Julian Butler] knew when he saw a coworker’s modern LED incarnation of the classic piece of illuminated decor that he had to have one for himself. The only problem was that the Kickstarter for it had long since ended, and they were no longer available. So he did what any good hacker would do: he studied it closely, took a bunch of notes, and built his own version that ended up being even better than the original.
In the three part series on his blog, [Julian] takes us through the design and construction of his take on the Ion Mood Light, which raised over $72,000 back in 2014. The details in the Kickstarter campaign plus his own first-hand observations of the device were enough to give him the high-level summary: the device has a core of RGB LEDs behind a diffuser, and uses some software trickery to pulse out some pleasing effects and patterns. He wasn’t concerned about the Bluetooth or the smartphone application, so all he really needed to do was put some NeoPixel LEDs inside a glass cylinder and he’d be done. Of course, it always sounds easy…
The actual journey to get there, as you might have guessed from the three part series, took awhile. Sourcing the LEDs was easy enough, and using a Fadecandy controller made getting the LEDs to blink out some cool patterns fairly straightforward. But it took [Julian] a bit of experimentation and a few trips to the crafts store before he found a material which would diffuse the LEDs enough for his tastes. Though in the end, he thinks the multiple layers of acrylic he ended up going with actually do a better job of blending the light from the individual LEDs than in the original Ion.
Using the Fadecandy made it easy to drive the LEDs, but he still needed something to provide it with the commands. To that end, he added a decorative base to his LED column that hides a Raspberry Pi and all the lamp’s associated electronics. This includes a microphone which gives his lamp the same sort of sound reactive features that made the Ion so popular. The base does make his lamp a bit bulkier than the original version, but the metallic mesh construction is attractive enough the overall look works.
Of course, you might be wondering how [Julian] got the LEDs to react to sound, or do any of the other gorgeous effects shown off in the video after the break. The software which makes this possible makes up the third and final post in the series, and is really a whole project in itself. The short version of the story is that he used Python and Processing to do real-time computational fluid dynamics, but not before making the necessary adjustments to speed up the simulation on ARM hardware. You know, normal lamp stuff.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen projects using the Fadecandy board. From creating a Tron inspired desk to building the 5,760 LED “Space Tunnel”, it looks like a great choice if you’ve got a problem that can be solved by the application of a ridiculous number of LEDS.