When Is One Pixel Cooler Than Millions?

On vacation, we went to see a laser show – one of the old school variety that combines multiple different lasers of many different colors together into a single beam, modulates them to create different colors, and sends it bouncing off galvos to the roof of a planetarium. To a musical score, naturally.

When I was a kid, I had no idea how they worked, but laser shows were awesome. As a younger grownup hacker, and after some friends introduced me to the dark arts, I built my own setup. I now know how they work from the deepest innards out, and they are no less awesome. Nowadays, you can get a capable set of galvos and drivers for around a hundred bucks from the far east, it’s fair to say that there’s no magic left, but the awesome still remains.

RGB laser
“laser show” by Ilmicrofono Oggiono

At the same time, lasers, and laser shows, are supremely retro. The most stunning example of this hit me while tearing apart a Casio projector ages ago to extract the otherwise unobtainable brand new 455 nm blue laser diodes. There I was pulling one diode out of an array of 24 from inside the projector, and throwing away the incredibly powerful DSP processor, hacking apart the precision optical path, and pulling out the MEMS DLP mirror array with nearly a million little mirrors, to replace it with two mirrors, driven around by big old coil-of-wire electromagnets. Like a caveman.

But still, there’s something about a laser show that I’ve never seen replicated – the insane color gamut that they can produce. It is, or can be, a lot more than just the RGB that you get out of your monitor. Some of the colors you can get out of a laser (or a prism) are simply beautiful in a way that I can’t explain. I can tell you that you can get them from combining red, blue, green, cyan, and maybe even a deep purple laser.

What you get with a laser show pales in comparison to the multi-megapixel projectors in even a normal movie theater. Heck, you’ve really got one pixel. But if you move it around fast enough, and accompany it with a decent soundtrack, you’ve still got an experience that’s worth having while you still can.

[Banner image from a positively ancient RGB laser hack. We need more! Send us yours!]

Exquisite Craftsmanship Elevate Vic’s Creations Above The Rest

This booth was easy to miss at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 amidst tall professional conference signage erected by adjacent exhibitors. It showcased the work of [Dr. Victor Chaney] who enjoys his day job as a dentist and thus feels no desire to commercialize his inventions — he’s building fun projects for the sake of personal enjoyment which he simply calls Vic’s Creations. Each project is built to his own standards, which are evidently quite high judging by the perfect glossy finish on every custom wood enclosure.

Some of these creations were aligned with his musical interests. The Backpacking Banjo was built around a (well cleaned) cat food can to satisfy the desire for a lightweight instrument he can take camping. His Musical Laser Rainbow Machine (fully documented in Nuts & Volts) was created so little bands formed by independent artists like himself can have a visual light show to go with their live performances. The Music Kaleidoscope is another execution along similar lines, with an LED array whose colors are dictated by music. Venturing outside the world of music, we see a magnetically levitated Castle In The Clouds which also receives power wirelessly to illuminate LEDs

The largest and most complex work on display is an epic electromechanical masterpiece. Par One is a rolling ball sculpture featuring the most convoluted golf course ever. Several more rolling ball sculptures (also called marble machines or marble runs) are on display at Dr. Chaney’s office which must make it the coolest dentist’s lobby ever. The lifelike motions he was able to get from the automatons he built into the sculpture are breathtaking, as you can see below.

Continue reading “Exquisite Craftsmanship Elevate Vic’s Creations Above The Rest”

DIY Laser Lumia Lights Up The Night

Lasers are awesome, and as the technology continues to advance, they keep getting cheaper! If you’ve ever wanted your own laser light show in your man cave, it’s never been easier.

In the 70’s [rgrokett] was a planetarium technician, responsible for building and operating laser shows. Back then, the laser modules were huge and expensive. After being reminded of days gone past, thanks to an article about laser light show operators, he decided to try his own hand at building a Low-cost Laser Lumia Lightshow.

And it couldn’t be easier.

Continue reading “DIY Laser Lumia Lights Up The Night”