Building A Website-Controlled Christmas Tree

Back in the day, Christmas lights were simple strings of filament bulbs, and if you really splashed out, you could get some that flashed. These days, we expect a lot more capability out of our blinking decorations. [JT] has put together a rather nifty website-controlled setup for his own tree.

The setup is a little different than builds you may be used to. The website runs on a cloud-hosted virtual machine on Digital Ocean, rather than running locally. This allows anyone on the web to visit the site, and use the interface to control the lights on the Christmas tree. An image of the tree is used as the interface, and allows users to set the color of each individual LED on the tree. The LEDs themselves are driven from an NodeMCU ESP8266, which uses its WiFi connection to query the website itself and grab the color data as needed. [JT] has also included a secondary interface, where the chat of the Youtube livestream can be used to control the LEDs, too.

It’s a build that’s a touch more complicated than most typical online LED blinkers, but one that teaches useful skills in interfacing on the web and using virtual machines. We’ve seen other builds in this genre too; even some that are reactive to “Christmas fever” itself. Video after the break.

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Simple Christmas Tree Christmas Tree Ornament

When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. An LED ornament for the Christmas tree can be built in any manner of simple, easy implementations. You certainly don’t need an ARM Cortex M4 CPU running at 120MHz having a mouthful of three letter features like FPU, ETM, ETB, ECC, RWW, TCM, EIC, AES, CAN bus and much, much more. But [Martin Held] built a super simple LED Christmas tree ornament using the ATSAME51 series micro-controller, which he regularly works with and had on hand, and lots of bi-color LEDs. He already had schematic symbols and programmers for the device from other projects where he uses it more extensively, so putting it all together in time for the festive season was that much faster for him, despite the fact that the micro-controller was most likely the cheapest part of the BOM, besides the passives.

At this point it might be tempting to argue that it would have been so much simpler to use addressable LED’s, such as the WS2812B or the APA102C. You can drive them using a more basic micro-controller, and not require so many GPIO pins. But using such “smart pixel” LED’s for hand assembled prototypes can sometimes lead to unexpected results. If they are not stored in sealed tape/reel form, then storage conditions can have an adverse effect leading to dead pixels. And, they need a specific baking procedure before being soldered. Doing that for a few LEDs at home can be tricky.

So for the LED’s, he again went a bit off the beaten path, selecting to use three different color styles of bi-color LED’s with easy to hand-solder, 1206 footprints. This allows him to get a fairly random mix of colors in the completed ornament.

The LED array is pseudo-charlieplexed. One terminal of each LED goes to a GPIO pin on the micro-controller and the other terminal of all the LED’s are connected to a single complimentary pair of N-channel/P-channel MOSFETs — connected in totem-pole fashion. Depending on which MOSFET is switched on via a GPIO pin driving the gate pin high or low, the second terminal of each LED gets connected to either supply or ground. In combination with the GPIO pins being driven high/low, this allows the bi-color LED to be biased in either direction. Getting each LED to emit one color is simple enough — setting all LED GPIOs low, and MOSFET gate GPIO high will bias the LEDs in one direction. Reverse the GPIO logic, and the LEDs will be biased in the other direction. If this is done slow enough, the two colors can be differentiated easily. If the driving logic is made fast, changing states every 10us, the two separate colors merge to form a third hue. With some clever bit of code, he also adds some randomness in the GPIO output states, resulting in a more appealing twinkling effect. [Martin] does a detailed walk through in the video embedded below.

If you have the same bunch of parts lying around and wish to replicate the project, be warned that the KiCad source files will need some work to clean up errors — [Martin] was in a hurry and knew what he was doing so there are some intentional mistakes in the schematic such as using the same symbol for the N-channel and P-channel MOSFETs, and uni-directional LED symbol in place of the bi-directional one. And for programming, you will need one of these pricey pogo-pin style cables, unless you decide to edit the PCB before sending off the Gerbers.

[Martin] built just three of these bespoke ornaments, retaining one and giving away the other two to a neighbour and a co-worker. But if you would really like to build a tree ornament with addressable LEDs, then check out the Sierpinski Christmas Tree which can be cascaded to form an array of tree ornaments.

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Tiny Tree Is A Thermometer For Christmas Fever

Tired of the usual methods for animating all those RGB LEDS for your holiday display? How about using trendiness in a non-trendy way?

[8BitsAndAByte] caved in to increasing holiday madness and bought the cutest little Christmas tree. A special tree deserves special decorations, so they packed it with NeoPixels that turn from red to green and back again one by one. Here’s where the trendiness comes in: the speed at which they change is determined by the popularity of “Christmas” as a search term.

The NeoPixels are controlled by a Raspberry Pi 3B+ that uses PyTrends to grab a value from Google Trends once an hour. The service returns a value between 0 to 100, where 100 means the search term is extremely popular, and 0 means it’s probably the dead of January. Each NeoPixel is wired to the underside of a translucent printed gift box that does a great job of diffusing the light.

You know how Christmas trees have a tendency to stick around well into the new year? This one might last even longer than usual, thanks to the bonus party mode. Press the arcade button on the box cleverly disguised as a present, and the lights change from red to green and back at warp speed while the speaker inside blasts the party anthem of your choice. Be sure to check out the demo/build video waiting for you under after the break.

How could this little tree get any more special? Well, a rotating platform couldn’t hurt.

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Don’t Hang Christmas Lights, Embed Them

Finding it hard to get into the holiday spirit this year? Maybe you just need a timely project to light up the evenings until Santa (or Krampus) pays your house a visit. Whoever visits this season, delight or distract them with a 3D printed tree featuring embedded RGB LEDs.

[MakeTVee] printed this tree in four stages to make it a little bit easier to wire everything up. Each stage has six LEDs embedded in a 5mm transparent layer at the bottom. The top stage has a second color change to make a tree topper that holds a single LED. The color change feature in PrusaSlicer 2.0 made it easy to pause the print, insert the wired-up LEDs, and resume seamlessly in green filament. There’s a hidden base of what appears to be appropriately delicious cinnamon filament that holds the Trinket M0 and the power switch.

This lil’ tree looks great, especially considering how fiddly and nerve-wracking the wiring and assembly must have been. [MakeTVee] made it easier on himself with a printed wiring stencil that holds the LEDs in their star formation while he solders them up with magnet wire (a solid choice in our book). He thoughtfully included that stencil in the files which are up on the Prusa site. Dim the lights, grab a hot beverage, and check out [MakeTVee]’s build video after the break.

If you want a holiday hack that people can play with, invite them to paint your addressable tree.

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LED Tree Brings Gravity To Christmas

Here’s a fun entry into our coin cell challenge. The power source is the actuating force in [Frank]’s blinky LED Christmas tree, which takes advantage of the physical structure of coin cells and our old pal gravity to roll out some holiday cheer. Talk about forward voltage!

We love the concept, and the circuit couldn’t be more simple. A coin cell is released at the top of the tree and rolls down a series of angled foam board railings covered with 1/4″ copper tape. As the coin cell travels, the negative terminal shimmies along the face of the tree, which has corresponding ground rail tapes. There’s no microcontroller here—all that’s needed for blinks are breaks in the negative rail tape.

The challenging part of a project like this is the execution. Getting a coin cell to ride the rails without falling off required angle experimentation prior to and during the build. Now that it’s done, keeping the tree tilted back against the wall is key. [Frank] explored several options for returning the coin cell to the top using a camera motor and the gear assembly from an old inkjet, but for now, his six-year-old does the job without complaint. Check out his work ethic after the break.

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LEDmas Tree

led christmas tree

[Nick] is a bit of an LED fanatic. So when his boss asked him to help make an LED Christmas tree for work, he jumped at the opportunity!

It’s a beautiful build, making use of laser(?) cut plexiglass disks, wooden “trunks” made using a lathe, and a TON of RGB LEDs. Unfortunately—because it turned out so nice—the company is thinking of selling it as a product next year, so [Nick] isn’t allowed to divulge much more information behind the build. Regardless, it looks fantastic , and we’re sure you could hack your own.

He was allowed to take a video of it though, so check it out after the break! He also has a ton of other very cool LED projects on his blog at www.hownottoengineer.com

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