Bask In The Glory Of This 336 LED Digit Display

[Chris Combs] recently took the wraps off of an incredible art piece that he calls Road Ahead which uses 336 seven segment LED digits to create an absolutely gorgeous display. With a piece of smoked acrylic to slightly diffuse the orange glow of the LEDs, the end result has a distinctively retro look that we’d gladly spend all day staring at.

For those looking to dig a bit deeper, [Chris] has put together some very impressive documentation over on Hackaday.io that goes into plenty of detail on how he designed and built this beauty. From the design of the PCBs that carry all of the 0.3″ SMD displays to the custom software running on the Raspberry Pi 3 that powers it, there’s no technical stone left unturned.

According to the build log, this is the second version of the display. The first one was housed in a rather attractive wooden enclosure, but as [Chris] explains, that was precisely the problem. He wanted something that looked cold and unfeeling as the nearly 340 digits flashed away with potentially ominous intent. So he ditched the wooden case for a powder coated steel one that looks more like the front panel of a mainframe than something you’d pick up at the craft store.

Another interesting point explained in the write-up is how the Python software is designed to treat the hardware as a contiguous graphical display rather than just an array of independent digits. Grayscale images can be reproduced on the by using PWM to adjust the brightness of each segment’s corresponding “pixel”; though admittedly it takes a bit of imagination to see the intended image with a resolution this low.

This project reminds us of the incredible LED hexdump display we saw not that long ago, down to the PWM trickery for squeezing “graphics” out of these exceptionally non-graphical elements. With any luck, perhaps these are the opening shots in an arms race to see who can build the largest array of multi-segment LED displays.

Steampunk Motorcycle Runs On Compressed Air, Is Pure Hacking Art

Sometimes it’s ok to sacrifice some practicality for aesthetics, especially for passion projects. Falling solidly in this category is [Peter Forsberg]’s beautiful, barely functional steam punk motorcycle. If this isn’t hacker art, then we don’t know what is.

The most eye-catching part of the motorcycle is the engine and drive train, with most of the mechanical components visible. The cylinders are clear glass tubes with custom pistons, seals, valves and push rods. The crank mechanism is from an old Harley and is mounted inside a piece of stainless steel pipe. Because it runs on compressed air it cools down instead of heating up, so an oil system is not needed.

For steering, the entire front of the bike swings side to side on hinges in the middle of the frame, which is quite tricky to ride with a top speed that’s just above walking speed. It can run for about 3-5 minutes on a tank, so the [Peter] mounted a big three-minute hour glass in the frame. The engine is fed from an external air tank, which he wears on his back; he admits it’s borderline torture to carry the thing for any length of time. He plans to build a side-car to house a much larger tank to extend range and improve riding comfort.

[Peter] admits that it isn’t very good as a motorcycle, but the amount of creativity and resourcefulness required to make it functional at all is the mark of a true mechanical hacker. We look forward to seeing it in its final form.

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A Programming Language That Lets You Code With Pixels

This programming language gives you programs that resemble modern art. It’s fortunately a feature of the language, dubbed Piet after the famed abstract painter Piet Mondrian.

The language uses 20 distinct colors, with the colors cycling from red to yellow to green to cyan to blue to magenta and the lightness cycling from light to normal to dark. The code is formed from graphics made of the recognized colors, with individual pixels holding much of the information. Stacks are used for storing data values, that can exist as integers or as Unicode characters with the proper commands applied.

Numbers in the program are represented by colors, while black blocks indicates edges and white blocks indicate free zones. The interpreter physically slides through blocks in the direction of the Direction Pointer (DP), with hue changes indicating different commands based on the steps of the change.

To execute a program, the Piet language interpreter begins in the upper left codel (or individual code block) of the program, maintaining a DP initially pointed to the right and a Codel Chooser (CC) initially pointed to the left. The DP and CC turn right, left, down, or up depending on the execution.

There is currently a small community of coders developing sample programs, interpreters, IDEs, and compilers for the language. You can check out some of the sample programs here.

Bend It Like Bhoite: Circuit Sculptures Shatter The Bounds Of Flatland

As electronics hobbyists, we live in a somewhat two-dimensional world. Our craft is so centered around the printed circuit board that our design tools are specifically geared to spit out files tailored to the board house, who can then ship us a study in fiberglass and copper. We daub on flux and solder, add components, apply heat, and like magic, our circuits come to life, all within a few millimeters above and below the PCB.

Breaking out of this self-imposed Flatland can be therapeutic. At least that’s how Mohit Bhoite sees his free-form circuit sculptures, which he spoke about at length at the Hackaday Superconference this year. By way of disclosure, I have to admit to being a longtime fan of Mohit’s work, both at his day job as a designer at Particle, and with his spare time hobby of creating sculptures from electronic components and brass wire which can be followed on his Twitter feed. He ended up joining us for a circuit sculpture Hack Chat just before heading to Supercon, too, so not only was I looking forward to meeting him, I was sure his talk would reveal the secrets of his art and give me the inspiration to start doing some of my own. I wasn’t disappointed on either score.

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Replace Your Smartphone With These Arcane Amulets

It’s hard not to feel the constant pull on our limited attention from the very interesting rectangles in our pockets and packs. [Antoine Pintout] is fighting against it with three interesting pendants.

The three objects each have functions. Sablier, tells time, but rather than giving the numerals it vibrates on a set interval to give a relative sense of the passage. Boussole is a compass like device which doesn’t tell the cardinal directions. Instead it tells you which way to go in order to get to a pre-set location. The last, Sifflet, is a pager, but rather than sending a text it plays a melody reflecting the sender’s mood.

We love the look of the objects. The circuits are beautifully laid out and showcased in well machined brass cases. Small details abound; in Sifflet for example, the coil antenna is symmetrically presented with its own cutout in the board. Laying out a board is hard enough, but taking this much care in component placement easily doubles the time.

All the files and models are available,  though we’re not sure we possess the craftsmanship to reproduce these to the same standard.

Use Blueprint Process To Print On Fabric With Lasers

[Shih Wei Chieh] has built a laser cyanotype printer for fabrics. You know, for art!

How do you get an inkjet head on a shoe or a couch? Most printing processes require a flat surface to print. But hearkening back to the days when a blueprint was a blueprint, a mixture of an iron salt and an acid are mixed and applied to a surface an interesting reaction occurs when the surface is exposed to UV light. The chemicals react to form, of all things, prussian blue. After the reaction occurs simply washing away the remaining chemicals leaves a stable print behind.

[Shih Wei Chieh] uses two galvanometers and a laser to cure the fabric. He uses a slightly newer process which reduces the exposure time required. This lets him print very large pictures, but also on uneven surfaces. As you can see in the video, viewable after the break, the effect is very pretty. There’s a new way to have the coolest pen plotter on the block.

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Kelly Heaton’s Artwork Blurs The Line Between Traditional And Electronic

Digital electronics are all well and good, but it’s hard to ignore the organic, living qualities of the analog realm. It’s these circuits that Kelly Heaton spends her time with, building artistic creations that meld the fine arts with classic analog hardware to speak to the relationship between electronics and nature. During her talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, Kelly shared the story of her journey toward what she calls Electronic Naturalism, and what the future might bring.

The Pool of Reflection Loop was one of Kelly’s early electronic installation pieces.

Kelly got her start like many in the maker scene. Hers was a journey that began by taking things apart, with the original Furby being a particular inspiration. After understanding the makeup of the device, she began to experiment, leading to the creation of the Reflection Loop sculpture in 2001, with the engineering assistance of Steven Grey. Featuring 400 reprogrammed Furbys, the device was just the beginning of Kelly’s artistic experimentation. With an interest in electronics that mimicked life, Kelly then moved on to the Tickle Me Elmo. Live Pelt (2003) put 64 of the shaking Muppets into a wearable coat, that no doubt became unnerving to wear for extended periods.

Analog electronics parallel living organisms while programmable logic merely simulates life.

Forrest Mims

Wanting to create art with a strong relationship to organic processes, Kelly focused on working with discrete components and analog circuitry. Basic building blocks such as the astable multivibrator became key tools that were used in different combinations to produce the desired effects. Through chaining several oscillators together, along with analog sequencers, circuits could be created that mimicked the sound of crickets in a backyard, or a Carolina wren singing in a tree.

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