An IoT Christmas Tree You’re Invited to Control

We love IoT gadgets, but are occasionally concerned that they might allow access to the wrong kind of hacker. In this case, [Kevin] has created an IoT tree that allows anyone to control the pattern of lights, and he’s invited you to do so!

We played with the tree a bit, and the web interface is fairly powerful. For each LED, you can select either a random color or a keyframe-defined pattern. For the keyframe LEDs, you can create a number of “keyframes”, each of which is defined by a color and a transition, which can be either linear, quarter sine wave, or instantaneous (“wall”). Additional keyframes can be added for each LED, and if don’t specify a pattern for all the LEDs, the system repeats those you have defined to fill the entire string. There are also a few preset patterns you can choose if you prefer. If you, too, want to play with the tree, don’t delay: it’s only available through the first week of 2019!

Behind the scenes, an aging Raspberry Pi provides the local brains driving the LED controller and streaming the video, while a cloud server running a Redis instance allows communication with the web. The interface to the string of WS2811 LEDs uses [Kevin]’s Kinetis LK26 breakout board, which he managed to get working despite the state of tools and documentation for the Kinetis ARM family. You can read a good discussion of the system on his blog; there are a surprisingly large number of pieces that need to work together. As usual, he provides all the source code for this project on GitHub.

We’ve seen [Kevin]’s work before, including his 73-LED wristwatch, and adventures developing on an STM32 from scratch.

But, if it’s IoT Christmas trees that have got you thinking, you can check out this one from last year.

LEDs and Pi Let You Virtually Decorate This Online Christmas Tree

Anyone who has decorated a Christmas tree knows that the lights are what really make the look. But no matter how many strings you wrap around it, there never seems to be enough. Plus the standard sets either sit there and do nothing, or just blink on and off at regular intervals. Yawn.

But hackers aim higher, and [leo.currie]’s interactive “paintable” Christmas tree takes the lighting game a step beyond. The standard light strings are replaced with strings of WS2811 RGB LEDs which are wired to an ESP8266. A camera connected to a Raspberry Pi is setup up to stream images of the tree to all and sundry on the Interwebz, but with a special twist: it also creates a map of every light on the tree. That allows the lights to be controlled individually in response to user inputs on a web page hosted on the Pi. The upshot is that you can paint the tree with any color you like in real time, or upload various animated GIFs to display on the tree. You can play with the tree directly, or watch a replay on the video below when that Pi inevitably gets hugged to death.

Imagine the possibilities with this. Why not hang a lot of LED strings vertically from the eaves of your house and make a huge, low-resolution display? We’ve featured plenty of large, interactive LED Christmas displays before, and we’d love to see what you come up with.

Continue reading “LEDs and Pi Let You Virtually Decorate This Online Christmas Tree”

We’re Dreaming of a Circuit Sculpture Christmas

Whether or not you chose to believe our claim that we planned it this way, the holidays happen to fall right smack in the middle of our ongoing Circuit Sculpture Contest, which challenges hackers to build circuits that double as bona fide works of art. It’s become almost too easy to spin up your own PCB, so why not try your hand at building in three dimensions and without a net? The holidays are a perfect time for it as it’s not only a reprieve from the work, school, or forced labor camp that usually ties up our waking hours, but can also be a source of inspiration.

Case in point, this festive LED Christmas tree entry that comes our way courtesy of [Vincent Mkes]. This one really has it all: a recognizable theme, fantastic wire work, copious amounts of LEDs, and in a touch that is sure to delight even the electronics Scrooges amongst our readership, he does it all with the venerable 555 timer. It’s really what the Circuit Sculpture Contest is all about: taking a circuit that might otherwise be pretty ordinary and turning it into something truly unique.

The astute Hackaday reader (as if there was any other type) will likely notice there are actually two NE555 timers under the tree, each blinking their respective bank of LEDs at a different frequency. This makes the final result a bit more vibrant, and through some last-minute revisions, [Vincent] was able to hook them both up to a single power supply to really capture the minimalist spirit of the Contest.

As an early Christmas gift to us all, [Vincent] has done an excellent job documenting this build so anyone who wishes to infuse their end of year party with a little diode-driven holiday cheer can follow along. He’s included build instructions as well as diagrams of the circuit, though we encourage anyone looking to make one of their own to experiment a bit and put their own spin on it. After all, this is supposed to be art.

There’s still plenty of time to get your own entry into the Circuit Sculpture Contest, Yule-related or otherwise. Just document your build on Hackaday.io and submit it before the January 8th, 2019 deadline. Remember that entries can’t just look cool, they still need to be functional. Words to live by in general, but doubly important when they’re the rules of a contest.

Incredibly Heavy Ornament Likely Inappropriate To Hang On Tree

It’s that time of year again, and the Christmas hacks are flooding in thick and fast. To get into the Christmas spirit,  the FoxGuard team wanted a custom ornament to hang from the tree. They may have gotten more than they bargained for.

It’s a simple build that demonstrates the basic techniques of working with DACs and scopes in a charming holiday fashion. A Tektronix T932A analog oscilloscope is pressed into service as a display, by operating in XY mode. A Teensy 3.5 was then chosen for its onboard digital to analog converters, and used to output signals to draw a Christmas tree and star on the screen.

Old-school coders will appreciate the effort taken to plot the graphics out on graph paper. While the hack doesn’t do anything cutting edge or wild, it’s impressive how quick and easy this is thanks to modern development methods. While the technology to do this has existed for decades, a hacker in 1998 would have spent hours breadboarding a PIC microcontroller with DACs, let alone the coding required. We’ve come a long way.

It’s a bit of fun, but we highly recommend you don’t try and hang an analog scope off your tree at home. These WiFi-controlled ornaments are perhaps more suitable. Video after the break. Continue reading “Incredibly Heavy Ornament Likely Inappropriate To Hang On Tree”

Christmas POV Display Makes Viewer do the Work

Hackaday readers have certainly seen more than a few persistence of vision (POV) displays at this point, which usually take the form of a spinning LED array which needs to run up to a certain speed before the message becomes visible. The idea is that the LEDs rapidly blink out a part of the overall image, and when they get spinning fast enough your brain stitches the image together into something legible. It’s a fairly simple effect to pull off, but can look pretty neat if well executed.

But [Andy Doswell] has recently taken an interesting alternate approach to this common technique. Rather than an array of LEDs that spin or rock back and forth in front of the viewer, his version of the display doesn’t move at all. Instead it has the viewer do the work, truly making it the “Chad” of POV displays. As the viewer moves in front of the array, either on foot or in a vehicle, they’ll receive the appropriate Yuletide greeting.

In a blog post, [Andy] gives some high level details on the build. Made up of an Arduino, eight LEDs, and the appropriate current limiting resistors on a scrap piece of perfboard; the display is stuck on his window frame so anyone passing by the house can see it.

On the software side, the code is really an exercise in minimalism. The majority of the file is the static values for the LED states stored in an array, and the code simply loops through the array using PORTD to set the states of all eight digital pins at once. The simplicity of the code is another advantage of having the meatbag human viewer figure out the appropriate movement speed on their own.

This isn’t the only POV display we’ve seen with an interesting “hook” recently, proving there’s still room for innovation with the technology. A POV display that fits into a pen is certainly a solid piece of engineering, and there’s little debate the Dr Strange-style spellcaster is one of the coolest things anyone has ever seen. And don’t forget Dog-POV which estimates speed of travel by persisting different images.

[Thanks to Ian for the tip.]

Advances In Flat-Pack PCBs

Right now, we’ve got artistic PCBs, we’ve got #badgelife, and we have reverse-mounted LEDs that shine through the fiberglass substrate. All of this is great for PCBs that are functional works of art. Artists, though, need to keep pushing boundaries and the next step is obviously a PCB that doesn’t look like it has any components at all. We’re not quite there yet, but [Stephan] sent in a project that’s the closest we’ve seen yet. It’s a PCB where all the components are contained within the board itself. A 2D PCB, if you will.

[Stephen]’s project is somewhat simple as far as a #badgelife project goes. It’s a Christmas ornament, powered by two coin cells, hosting an ATTiny25 and blinking two dozen LEDs via Charlieplexing. The PCB was made in KiCAD, with some help from Inkscape and Gimp. So far, so good.

Castellated edges, containing a part

The trick is mounting all the components in this project so they don’t poke out above the surface of the board. This is done by milling a rectangular hole where every part should go and adding castellated pads to one side of the hole. The parts are then soldered in one at a time against these castellated pads, so the thickness of the completed, populated board is just the thickness of the PCB.

The parts used in this project are standard jellybean parts, but there are a few ways to improve the implementation of this project. The LEDs are standard 0805s, but side-emitting LEDs do exist. If you’d like to take this idea further, it could be possible to create a sandwich of PCBs, with the middle layer full of holes for components. These layers of PCBs can then be soldered or epoxied together to make a PCB that actually does something, but doesn’t look like it does. This technique is done in extremely high-end PCBs, but it’s expensive as all get out.

Still, this is a great example of what can be done with standard PCB processes and boards ordered from a random fab house. It also makes for a great Christmas ornament and pushes the boundaries of what can be done with PCB art.

Spooky Animated Eyes for Your Frightening Needs

Unless you have an incredibly well-stocked parts bin, it’s probably too late to build these spooky animated eyes to scare off the neighborhood kiddies this year. But next year…

It’s pretty clear that Halloween decorating has gone over the top recently. It may not be as extreme as some Christmas displays, but plenty of folks like to up the scare-factor, and [wermy] seems to number himself among those with the spirit of the season. Like Christmas lights, these eyes are deployed as a string, but rather than just blink lights, they blink creepy eyes from various kinds of creatures. The eyes are displayed on individual backlit TFT-LCD displays housed in 3D-printed enclosures. Two pairs of eyes can be driven by the SPI interface of one ItsyBitsy M0 Express; driving more displays works, but the frame rate drops to an unacceptable level if you stretch it too far. Strung together on scraps of black ethernet cable, the peepers can live in the shrubs next to the front door or lining the walk, and with surprisingly modest power needs, you’ll get a full night of frights from a USB battery bank.

We like the look of these, and maybe we’ll do something about it next year. If you’re still in the mood to scare and don’t have the time for animated eyes this year, try these simple Arduino blinky eyes for a quick hit.

Continue reading “Spooky Animated Eyes for Your Frightening Needs”