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.

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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.

A Christmas Tree For Your Lab

It seems like holiday decorations come up earlier and earlier every year. You might not have room for a full-blown tree in your lab, but if you have an arbitrary waveform generator and a scope, Tektronix has a way for you to show your spirit electronically.

You can see the video below. Naturally, it features Tektronix gear, but we are pretty sure you could make it work with any arbitrary waveform generator that has at least two channels and a scope with an XY mode.

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Custom PCB Revives A Vintage Tree Stand

After 56 years, [Jeff Cotten]’s rotating Christmas tree stand had decided enough was enough. While its sturdy cast aluminum frame was ready for another half-century of merriment, the internal mechanism that sent power up through the rotating base had failed and started tripping the circuit breaker. The problem itself seemed easy enough to fix, but the nearly 60 year old failed component was naturally unobtanium.

But with the help of his local makerspace, he was able to manufacture a replacement. It’s not exactly the same as the original part, and he may not get another 56 years out of it, but it worked for this season at least so that’s a win in our books.

The mechanism inside the stand is fairly simple: two metal “wipes” make contact with concentric circle traces on a round PCB. Unfortunately, over the years the stand warped a bit and the wipe made contact with the PCB where it wasn’t intended do. This caused an arc, destroying the PCB.

The first step in recreating the PCB was measuring the wipes and the distance between them. This allowed [Jeff] to determine how thick the traces needed to be, and how much space should be between them. He was then able to take that data and plug it into Inkscape to come up with a design for his replacement board.

To make the PCB itself, he first coated a piece of copper clad board with black spray paint. Using the laser cutter at the makerspace, he was then able to blast away the paint, leaving behind the two concentric circles. A quick dip in acid, a bit of polishing with toothpaste, and he had a replacement board that was close enough to bolt up in place of the original hardware.

If you’d like to see the kind of hacks that take place above the stand, we’ve got plenty to get you inspired before next Christmas.

LED Christmas Tree Is Perfect Holiday Build

Soon the most wonderful time of the year will be upon us. Families all over the globe will gather together to exchange gifts, eat good food and enjoy some quality time with each other. For many, it will be the first time they’ve seen each other since the last holiday season. For us hackers –  this translates to a time we get to talk about ourselves and show off a little about what we do. Been taking it easy this year? Have no hacks to talk about? Well, it’s not too late! Break out the soldering iron and whip up the perfect conversation starter – an LED Christmas tree!

[Gumix] took a handful of those flickering LEDs and a step down DC-DC converter to make his simple but elegant tree. No microcontroller here… no code is running. As soon as power is applied, the flickering LEDs do all the work to create a visual delight.

Flickering LEDs have been the focus of a few hackers. They’re basically LEDs designed to flicker like a real candle. [cpldcpu] hooked a scope to one and guessed that a linear shift-register was responsible for the randomness behind the flickering, which would be confirmed several months later.

Be sure to check out [Gumix] LED tree and the video demonstration below.

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Touch Panels Make This Christmas Tree Interactive

The city of Liverpool, famously known as both the home port of the Titanic and the birthplace of The Beatles, also seems to have a thing for interactive public art installations. Witness this huge interactive Christmas tree that can be played by passersby.

The display in the city’s busy Williamson Square was commissioned by a municipal business group and built by [Adrian McEwen]. The idea was to adorn the 10-meter natural tree with large geometric ornaments covered with Neopixel strips. [Adrian] documents the build process in some detail, including that fact that over 170 meters of WS2812b strips went into the ornaments for the tree. While the strips themselves at IP68 rated, the connections needed when attaching them to the custom-made frames were not, and that had to be overcome with ample application of heat-shrink tubing. OctoWS2811 adapter boards were dangled about the tree to control the lights and connected together with garlands of Ethernet cables. Pressure sensors were used to control the lights when the EMI from the beefy power supplies needed to run everything proved too much for the original touch sensors. After a lot of bench testing and a few long nights working with the city crew to hang the display, passing Liverpudlians can now play the tree and enjoy the Christmas season.

Would you rather a smaller display for your own Christmas tree? This somewhat hyperactive indoor light show might be what you’re looking for.

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Must-Have Overkill Christmas Tree Lights

The yuletide fire is out, so we’re starting to receive this year’s Christmas hacks. [Chris] sent us his awesome video-mapped tree lighting hack. His project made clever use of a bunch of cool tools, so even if you’re not thinking forward to next December, it’s worth a look. Still images don’t do it justice; check out the video below the break.

The end result is an addressable string of WS2812B LEDs connected up to a Raspberry Pi Zero that can display a video image even though it’s wrapped around a roughly cone-shaped (pine) object. But this is actually more impressive than you’d think at first; how would you map a flat image to a string of LEDs wrapped around a tree?

[Chris]’s solution was to write a routine that lit up the LEDs in a unique pattern and then detected them using OpenCV and a webcam, making the mapping directly. He then samples images from a video at exactly the points where the pixels are located on the tree, and sends this data out to the LEDs.

The basic framework here should transform fairly easily into a generic image-mapping procedure with randomly located LEDs, so we think it’s a hack that’ll outlast the season. And because it runs on the Pi Zero, everything is in Python so it’d be a good project for beginners to replicate. However, the code section on the project page still lists it as coming soon. We hope so!

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