Ben Krasnow at Supercon: Making Alien Technology in Your Own Shop

Ben Krasnow has a vision of future electronics: instead of the present PCB-screwed-into-a-plastic-box construction, flexible circuits will be deposited straight onto the plastic body of the device itself, merging the physical object and its electronics. There is existing copper-on-plastic technology, but Ben’s got something novel that he presents in this talk that you could implement yourself. You might also want a display, or at least something to blink, so he’s also working on some electroluminescent technology to complement it. If you were wondering why Ben is so interested in silkscreening photopolymers right now, watching this talk will pull a lot of interesting threads together. Continue reading “Ben Krasnow at Supercon: Making Alien Technology in Your Own Shop”

Cyberpunk Jacket Is The Garment of Choice For The Streets of 2019

Fans of science fiction and related genres have always been disappointed by real life. The future holds so much promise on paper, yet millions were disappointed upon reaching 2015 to find that hoverboard technology still eluded us. It’s not all bad, though – [abetusk] has developed a cyberpunk jacket so you can live out your grungy hacker fantasies in real life.

The effect is achieved with specially designed jacket patches. Nylon fabric is lasercut with artwork or lettering, and then placed over an electroluminescent panel. The fabric acts as a mask and is glued onto the EL panel, and the assembly is then attached to the back of the jacket with velcro.

It’s a build that focuses on more than just a cool visual effect. The attention to detail pays off in robustness and usability – wires are neatly fed through the lining of the jacket, and special strain relief devices are used to avoid wires breaking off the EL panels. The extra effort means this is a jacket that can withstand real-world use, rather than falling apart in the middle of a posed photo shoot.

Everything is well documented, from artwork creation to final assembly, so there’s no reason you can’t replicate this at home – and the final results are stunning. Our take is that electroluminescent technology is the way to go for retro and cyberpunk looks, but LEDs can be fun too – like in this high-powered Burning Man build.

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Building EL Displays On A PCB

ELElecrolumiscent displays have seen a huge swing in popularity recently, but only in limited forms like EL wire or flat EL panels. You can, of course, cut and bend these wires and panels to suit any purpose, but custom shaped EL displays are just the bee’s knees. They’re not hard to fabricate, either: with cheap custom PCBs, all it takes to make custom EL panels is just a few chemicals.

[Nick]’s method of fabricating custom EL displays uses an exposed copper layer on a PCB you’d pick up from OSHpark or any of the random board houses in China. The process consists of designing a display – be it a few letters, pixels, or a seven-segment arrangement. The display ‘stack’ is a layer of painted-on dialectric, a phospor, and finally a translucent conductive ink that connects the display segments to ground. It looks like an extremely easy process, and from the pictures it looks like [Nick] is making some EL displays of reasonable quality.

[Nick]’s work was inspired by the grand poobah of homebrew electrolumiscent displays, [Jeri Ellsworth], who managed to make a similar EL pixel on a PCB. [Nick]’s display looks great, though, and with a little work some custom segment displays should be very possible.

Electronic wedding attire for a geeky wedding

In the past we featured many projects that were used at [Bill] and [Mara]’s wedding. However we forgot the most important thing: their electronically enhanced clothes.

As you can see from the picture above, the wife opted for LEDs while the husband preferred Electro Luminescent (EL) wires/panels. The ATtiny based platform LilyTiny was picked to control all the LEDs, and charlieplexing was implemented as only 4 IO pins were available. Animations were made using Vixen and exported via a python script.

To power the EL wires, [Bill] hacked a Sparkfun EL battery pack/inverter. He removed the shell and took out the inverter part, reverse engineered the design enough to figure out how to bypass the onboard microcontroller that generated the on/off/blink function. Finally, he 3D printed enclosures to pack the electronics with one Li-Ion battery pack. A boost regulator was used to supply the 12v required by the EL panel power supply.

Don’t forget to also check out their centerpieces and wedding invitations that we previously featured.

Months of failure lead up to this EL panel dimmer that pulses to the music

el-panel-dimmer

Way back in March [Ch00f] took on a for-hire project to make a suit that lights up to the music. He decided to build something based around a pulsating EL panel. He’s put a lot of time and tried of a few different techniques, but he finally has a working EL panel dimmer.

This is a saga we’ve kept our eye on. The fall seems to have been good to him, after a failure using TRIACS he managed to adjust the brightness of some EL wire by messing with the current going to the driver’s oscillator. Standing on the shoulders of that success he designed the board seen above by getting serious about audio signal processing. There’s a microphone on the board which picks up sound which is then processed into a signal responsible for the brightness of the EL panel.

There’s a demo video after the break, but you’ll want to dig into his article to get all the gritty details.

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How TO dim EL wire: Current limiting the oscillator!

[Ch00f] finally made a breakthrough with his efforts dimming EL wire.  He’s been at it for months and the last we heard his TRIAC idea had sputtered out. Not to be discouraged and with an determination we have to admire he has been hard at work reverse engineering others’ and developing his own methods. He put all of this knowledge to task helping a friend of his with a sleeping disorder, and made a dream-catcher that pulses at the approximate rate of an average person’s breathing (as determined by Apple for their pulsing power button lights).

Essentially the whole thing boils down to simply using a transistor to limit the current to the oscillator. A 555 timer is used to pass a triangle wave to the current limiting transistor at approximately the same rate as the Apple button (1/5 Hz). [Ch00f] notes that this isn’t the sinusoidal wave that apple uses, but it’s good enough. Finally a timeout power off is built in to the night light using a decade counter to monitor the number of triangles from the 555. This should keep the EL wire from wearing down faster, though we are hard pressed to  think of a project we used EL on that has lasted anywhere near the 7 year service life of the wire.

Check out [Ch00f]’s page as he walks us through the process, or just watch his circuit in action after the jump!

Continue reading “How TO dim EL wire: Current limiting the oscillator!”

How not to dim EL panels, TRIACs!

We’ve all been there: an exciting brilliant idea, scratched onto a napkin, hastily plugged into a breadboard, all for naught.  Even the best ideas sometimes suffer from a heavy dose of reality.  [Ch00f] over at ch00ftech recently had a similar experience dimming an EL panel of his using a TRIAC and some clever waveform manipulation. Instead of tossing the parts across the room in a fit aside and moving on he goes into a detailed analysis of what went wrong.

This method differs from the way most EL drivers dim output loads, instead of chopping the output like a PWM controlled LED the TRIAC snips the ends of the waveform and makes an ugly but less powerful output. The issue with this method is that when you cut the waveform during non-zero crossings it causes massive current spikes. These can wreak havoc on a cheap EL inverter and generally cause headaches all around.  [Ch00f ] speculates that his woes may be due to the fact that EL wire is a capacitive load, causing voltage to fall out of phase with the current. This is one of those engineering problems with a thousand and one answers, we can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Check out the writeup for all the “deets” (as [ch00f] would say) as it is a pretty good primer on TRIAC operation. If there isn’t enough glowy wire in this post you can also check out this sound reactive panel or an informative guide on EL or even more from [ch00f] in general.