Rolling Your Own LED Matrix Driver, With Copper Foil Tape To The Rescue

It all started when [Damien Walsh] got his hands on some surplus LED boards. Each panel contained 100 mini-PCBs hosting a single bright LED that were meant to be to be snapped apart as needed. [Damien] had a much better idea: leave them in their 20×5 array and design a driver allowing each LED to be controlled over WiFi. He was successful (a brief demo video is embedded down below after the break) and had a few interesting tips to share about the process of making it from scratch.

The first hurdle he ran into was something most of us can relate to; it’s difficult to research something when one doesn’t know the correct terms. In [Damien]’s case, his searches led him to a cornucopia of LED drivers intended to be used for room lighting or backlights. These devices make a large array of smaller LEDs act like a single larger light source, but he wanted to be able to individually address each LED.

Eventually he came across the IS32FL3738 6×8 Dot Matrix LED Driver IC from ISSI which hit all the right bases. Three of these would be enough to control the 100-LED panel; it offered I2C control and even had the ability to synchronize the PWM of the LEDs across multiple chips, so there would be no mismatched flicker between LEDs on different drivers. As for micontroller and WiFi connectivity, we all have our favorites and [Damien] is a big fan of Espressif’s ESP32 series, and used the ESP32-WROOM to head it all up.

LED pads bridged to copper tape, with Kapton (polyimide) tape insulating any crossovers.

The other issue that needed attention was wiring. Each of the LEDs is on its own little PCB with handy exposed soldering pads, but soldering up 100 LEDs is the kind of job where a little planning goes a long way. [Damien] settled on a clever system of using strips of copper tape, insulated by Kapton (a super handy material with a sadly tragic history.) One tip [Damien] has for soldering to copper tape: make sure to have a fume extractor fan running because it’s a much smokier process than soldering to wires.

A 3D-printed baffle using tracing paper to diffuse the light rounds out the device, yielding a 20 x 5 matrix of individually-controlled rectangles that light up smoothly and evenly. The end result looks fantastic, and you can see it in action in the short video embedded below.

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Huge Seven Segment Display Made From Broken Glass

A staple of consumer devices for decades, seven segment displays are arguably one of the most recognizable electronic components out there. So it’s probably no surprise they’re cheap and easy to source for our own projects. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for personal interpretation.

[MacCraiger] wanted to build a wall clock with the classic seven segment LED look, only his idea was to make it slightly larger than average. With RGB LED strips standing in for individual LEDs, scaling up the concept isn’t really a problem on a technical level; the tricky part is diffusing that many LEDs and achieving the orderly look of a real seven segment display.

All those segments perfectly cut out of a sheet of plywood come courtesy of a CNC router. Once the rectangles had been cut out, [MacCraiger] had to fill them with something that could soften up the light coming from the LEDs mounted behind them. He decided to break up a bunch of glass bottles into small chunks, lay them inside the segments, and then seal them in with a layer of clear epoxy. The final look is unique, almost as though the segments are blocks of ice.

At first glance the use of a Raspberry Pi Zero to control the LED strips might seem overkill, but as it turns out, [MacCraiger] has actually added in quite a bit of extra functionality. The purists might say it still could have been done with an ESP8266, but being able to toss some Python scripts on the Linux computer inside your clock certainly has its appeal.

The big feature is interoperability with Amazon’s Alexa. Once he tells the digital home assistant to set an alarm, the clock will switch over to a countdown display complete with digits that change color as the timer nears zero. He’s also written some code that slowly shifts the colors of the digits towards red as the month progresses, a great way to visualize at a glance how close you are to blowing past that end of the month deadline.

We’ve seen something of a run on custom multi-segment displays recently. Just last month we saw a clock that used some incredible 25-segment LED displays, complete with their own unique take on the on epoxy-filled diffusers.

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Giant LED Display Is 1200 Balls To The Wall

When you’re going to build something big, it’s often a good idea to start small and work out the bugs first. That’s what [bitluni] did with his massive 1200-pixel LED video wall, which he unveiled at Maker Faire Hanover recently.

We covered his prototype a while back, a mere 300 ping pong ball ensconced-LEDs on a large panel. You may recall his travails with the build, including the questionable choice of sheet steel for the panel and the arm-busting effort needed to drill 300 holes with a hand drill. Not wanting to repeat those mistakes, [bitluni] used the custom hole punch he built rather than a drill, and went with aluminum sheet for the four panels needed. It was still a lot of work, and he had to rig up some help to make the tool more comfortable to use, but in the end the punched holes appear much neater than their drilled counterparts.

[bitluni] mastered enough TIG welding to make nice aluminum frames for the panels, making them lightweight and easy to transport. 1200 ping pong balls, a gunked-up soldering iron, and a package of hot glue sticks later, the wall was ready for electronics. It took a 70-amp power supply and an ESP32 to run everything, but that’s enough horsepower to make some impressive graphics and even stream live video – choppy and low-res, but still usable.

We love the look this wall and we appreciate the effort that went into it. And it’s always good to see just how much fun [bitluni] has with his builds – it’s infectious.

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A Classy USB Knob For The Discerning Computerist

The keyboard and mouse are great, we’re big fans. But for some tasks, such as seeking around in audio and video files, a rotary encoder is a more intuitive way to get the job done. [VincentMakes] liked the idea of having a knob he could turn to adjust his system volume or move forward and backwards through a stream in VLC, but he also wanted to be able to repeatedly enter keyboard commands with it; something commercial offerings apparently weren’t able to do.

So he decided to build his own USB knob that not only looks fantastic, but offers the features he couldn’t find anywhere else. It’s another project which proves that DIY projects don’t have to look DIY. In fact, they can often give their commercial counterparts a run for their money. But this “Infinity USB Knob” isn’t just a pretty face, it allows the user to do some very interesting things such as quickly undo and redo changes to see how they compare.

As you might imagine, the electronics for this project aren’t terribly complex. The main components are the Adafruit Trinket M0 microcontroller and the EC11 rotary encoder itself. To provide nice visual feedback he added in a NeoPixel ring, but that’s not strictly necessary if you’re trying to rig this up yourself. Though we have to say the lighting effects are a big part of what makes this build look so good.

Though certainly not the only part. The aluminum enclosure, combined with the home theater style knob on the encoder, really give the finished product a professional look. We especially like his method of drilling out the top of the case and filling in the holes with epoxy to create easy and durable LED diffusers. Something to keep in mind for your next control panel build, perhaps.

[VincentMakes] has done an excellent job of documenting the hardware and software sides of this build on Hackaday.io, and gives the reader enough information that replicating this project should be pretty straightforward for anyone who’s interested. While we’ve seen several rotary encoder peripherals for the computer in the past, we have to admit this is one of the most compelling yet from a visual and usability standpoint. If this build doesn’t make you consider adding a USB knob to your arsenal, nothing will.

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Fueled By Jealousy, This Smart Lamp Really Shines

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.

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3D Printed Diffusers Make More Natural Light

A strip of LEDs may be a simple and flexible way to add light to a project, but they don’t always look natural.  There is an easy way to make them look better, though: add a diffuser. That’s what [Nate Damen] did using a 3D printer. He created a diffuser using PETG giving a standard string of LEDs a softer and more natural look that makes them look more like older light sources such as fluorescent strips or EL wire, but with the flexible colors of LEDs. The PETG material he used has a naturally somewhat cloudy look, so it acts as a diffuser without needing any extra treatment.

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Watch The Honeycomb Clock Gently Track Time

We love clocks here at Hackaday, and so does [John Whittington]. Last year he created this hexagonal honey clock (or “Honock”) by combining some RGB LEDs with a laser-cut frame to create a smooth time display that uses color and placement to display time with a simple and attractive system.

The outer ring of twelve hexagons is essentially the hour hand, similar to analog clock faces: twelve is up, three is directly to the right, six is straight down, and nine is to the left. The inner ring represents ten minutes per hex. Each time the inner ring fills, the next hex (hour) on the outer ring lights up. The whole display is flooded with a minute-long rainbow at noon and midnight. Watch it in action in the video, embedded below.

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