The LED tree itself , filmed in the dark - a myriad of small orbs glowing mictures of green, blue and warm white

Kaleidoscope – Feelings Turned Into LED Tree

In 2020, [Eddie] found himself with a few hundred RGB LEDs left after a pandemic-interrupted project, and a slew of emotions he wanted to express – so he turned to the language of hardware, and started sculpting his feelings into an art project. He set out to build an LED tree around a piece of wood he picked for its cool shape, and trying out a long-shelved idea of his, while at it – using different resistors to mix colors of the RGB LEDs. The end result, pictured above, has earned “The Most Important Device” spot in our recent Sci-Fi contest, fair and square.

Initially, he wanted to use ATTiny microcontrollers and PWM all the lights in parallel. Having built an intermediate prototype, a small LED flower, he scrapped the idea due to technical problems, and then simplified it by hard-wiring RGB LEDs with randomly selected colors instead. As for the glowing orbs themselves, he made these just by pouring hot glue into silicon orb molds, a simple technique any of us could repeat. After 90 hours of work between him and an assistant he hired, the LEDs were wired up, each with random resistors connected to green and blue LED colors, and some warm white LEDs added into the mix.

He wanted to mostly use blue and green colors, as symbols of a world revived and revitalized – something we can’t help but keep our fingers crossed for. Before putting it all together, they wouldn’t know which colors each of the LEDs would power up in – part of the charm for this art piece, and no doubt a pleasant surprise. In the end, it turned out to be a futuristic decoration that we’re glad a camera could capture properly! If you like what you see, the build logs linked above have a bit more insights into how it all came together.

LED-adorned plants are fun projects that bring joy for a long time after you’ve finished them. You can easily make a LED tree out of what you have on hand, and if you get real fancy, you can create an intricate bonsai, too. And, if you’re ever interested to experiment with castellations, you can design yourself some PCB cube flowers!

This project was an entry into the 2022 Sci-Fi Contest. Check out all of the winning entries here.

Photo rail setup for stop motion

Stop-Motion Angels In The Light Field

Baseball jokes aside, holograms have been a dream for decades, and with devices finally around that support something like them, we have finally started to wonder how to make content for them. [Mike Rigsby] recently entered his stop-motion holographic setup into our sci-fi contest, and we love the idea.

Rather than a three-dimensional model or a 2d picture with pixels, the Looking Glass light field display supports a series of images as quantized points (hence light field). As you move around an object, images are interpolated between the frames you do know, giving a pretty convincing effect. In a traditional stop motion animation, you need to take anywhere between 12-24 frames to equal about one second of animation. Now that you need to take 48 pictures for one frame, over 1152 pictures for just one second of animation. Two problems quickly appear, how to take photographs accurately from the same position every time and how do you manage the deluge of photos sensibly. [Mike] started with a wooden stage for his actors. A magnet was mounted to the photo rail carriage, and a sensor allowed it to detect that it was in the same spot. An Arduino controls the rail, reads the magnet via a sensor, and controls the camera shutter. The DSLR he’s using can’t do that many frames per second, but that’s a problem for another sci-fi contest.

Holographic-ish displays are finally here, and they’re getting better. But if a display isn’t your speed, perhaps some laser-powered glasses can be the holographic experience you’re looking for?

This project was an entry into the 2022 Sci-Fi Contest. Check out all of the winning entries here.

Fireball-Flinging Figurine Feeds Fiction

If you’re writing a screenplay or novel, there will likely be points along the way at which you can’t get enough encouragement from friends and family. While kind words are kind, acts such as [scubabear]’s can provide a push like no other. By commissioning another 3D designer friend to model a character from the first friend’s screenplay so he could print and animate it, [scubabear] fed two birds with one scone, you might say.

Designer friend [Sean] modeled the mighty Braomar in Maya and Z-brush, and [scubabear] did test prints on a Formlabs Form2 as they went along to keep an eye on things. Eventually, they had a discussion about making space for wires and such, so [Sean] took to Blender to make Braomar hollow enough for wires, but not so empty that he would collapse under the stress of being (we presume) the main character.

Braomar stands upon a sigil that changes color thanks to an RGB LED ring in the base that’s driven by an Arduino Nano. A single pixel in the fireball is wired through Braomar’s body and flickers with the help of an addressable LED sequencer board.

Our favorite part of this build has to be the power scheme. Not content to have a wire running out from the base or even a remote control for power-draining concerns, [scubabear] used disc magnets in the base to switch on the 9 V battery when Screenplay Friend rotates it.

Of course, if you need inspiration to even thing about beginning to write a screenplay or novel, maybe you should lead with the maquette-building and then construct a story around your creation.


This project was an entry into the 2022 Sci-Fi Contest. Check out all of the winning entries here.

2022 Sci-Fi Contest: The Winners Are In

The Sci-Fi Contest closed out on Monday, and we put our heads together and picked our favorites. And it was no easy task, because in addition to many of the projects simply looking stellar, many went all-out on the documentation as well, making these stellar examples that we can all learn from, whether you’re into sci-fi or not. But who are we kidding? From the responses we got, you are.

The Winners

[RubenFixit]’s Star Trek Shuttle Console is a Trek themed escape room in a box. The project’s extraordinary attention to detail and exhaustive project logs absolutely won our judges heart. From the LCARS graphics to the 3D printed isolinear chip bays and mimetic crystals, it’s all there. [Ruben] estimates about 300 hours of work went into this one, and it shows.

We had no shortage of robotic projects in the contest, but [RudyAramayo]’s R.O.B. won our judges over. This one is not a joke, weighing in at over 140 lbs of custom metalwork and righteous treads. It’s also made out of some expensive hardware all around, so maybe this isn’t your weekend-build robot. We love the comment on the Arduino test code suite: “For gods sake man, you must test your code when it becomes an autonomous vehicle.”

Finally, [zapwizard]’s Functional Razor Crest Control Lever is a prop and a video game controller in one. We can totally see Grogu playing with this, and we were wowed by the attention to detail in the physical build — with custom gears and a speed limiter — as well as the attention to prop-making detail. Some parts are custom-cut stainless steel plates. 3D printed parts are covered in aluminum tape and chemically aged. Awesome. Oh yeah, it’s also a working USB joystick.

These three winners will be receiving a $150 shopping spree at Digi-Key.

Continue reading “2022 Sci-Fi Contest: The Winners Are In”

2022 Sci-Fi Contest: Multi-Sensor Measurement System

Many sci-fi movies and TV shows feature hand-held devices capable of sensing all manner of wonderful things. The µ Spec Mk II from [j] is built very much in that vein, packing plenty of functionality into a handy palm-sized form factor. 

An ESP32 serves as the brains of the device, hooked up to a 480×320 resolution touchscreen display. On board is a thermal camera, with 32×24 pixel resolution from an MLX90640 sensor. There’s also a 8×8 LIDAR sensor, too, and a spectral sensor that can capture all manner of interesting information about incoming light sources. This can also be used to determine the transmission coefficient or reflection coefficient of materials, if that’s something you desire. A MEMS microphone is also onboard for capturing auditory data. As a bonus, it can draw a Mandelbrot set too, just for the fun of it.

Future plans involve adding an SD card so that data captured can be stored in CSV format, as well as expanding the sensor package onboard. It’s a project that reminds us of some of the tricorder builds we’ve seen over the years. Video after the break.

Continue reading “2022 Sci-Fi Contest: Multi-Sensor Measurement System”

2022 Sci-Fi Contest: A Mac-Based Droid Named R.O.B.

Droids and robot assistants are still not really a part of our daily lives, even if they started showing up in movies many long decades ago. [Rudy Aramaryo] perhaps hopes that will change one day, and is pursuing this goal with their own droid build named R.O.B.

R.O.B. is quite a hefty ‘bot, weighing 140 lbs and sporting a full 80 Ah of lithium-iron-phosphate batteries for a long running time and plenty of power. For brains, R.O.B. packs in an Apple Mac Mini M1 and a Mac Studio, running OS X. It’s an unusual choice for a robot, but one that brings plenty of computing power to bear, nonetheless. Equipped with tracked propulsion, R.O.B. also features a slip-ring setup in the base allowing the droid to rotate endlessly without tangling wires.

By virtue of its size and power, R.O.B. goes a long way to emulating the general feel of the droids of the Star Wars series. It’s all about the roughly-human-scaled design, and the anthropomorphic features. Further helping the cause are a basic chat ability powered by Python, along with arms and actuators to interact with the world.

The name of this droid recalls us of the charming Nintendo console toy from the 1980s. If these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, and you’ve been hacking on ‘bots of your own, be sure to drop us a line. 

2022 Sci-Fi Contest: CyberGlove Tests Your Reactions

Since the 1980s, we’ve seen innumerable attempts to revolutionize the way we interact with computers. Since the advent of keyboards and mice, we’ve seen everything from magic wands to electric gloves, with [Deemo Chen]’s project fitting into the latter category.

The build takes on a cyberpunk aesthetic, with addressable LEDs installed along each digit. The various digits light up randomly, and the wearer of the glove must tap a button on the corresponding digit in order to test their reaction times. An Arduino Uno runs the show, and keeps track of the score, displaying the results on an attached HD44870-compatible LCD.

The mess-o’-wires aesthetic, with bare electronics hanging off the glove, goes a long way to making this look like a proper bit of sci-fi kit. The lurid, colorful glow is a key part of this look, and something we’ve seen on many projects over the years.

Overall, the reaction trainer served as a great freshman project for [Deemo], along with their chums [Dhruv] and [Ryan]. Along the way, the team clearly picked up skills in microcontroller programming, as well as learning how to work with LCD displays and addressable LEDs. Master these skills and you can pull off some impressive feats. Video after the break.

Continue reading “2022 Sci-Fi Contest: CyberGlove Tests Your Reactions”