Hacking This Smart Bulb Is Almost Too Easy

The regular Hackaday reader no longer needs to be reminded about how popular the ESP8266 is; they see the evidence of that several times a day. But what might not be quite so obvious is that it isn’t just us hacker types that are in love with the inexpensive IoT microcontroller, it’s also popping up more and more frequently in commercial products.

As [Majenko] demonstrates, one of those ESP-powered devices is the LOHAS Smart LED Bulb. Upon cracking one open, he found that these relatively low-cost bulbs are little more than a standard ESP8266 chip and a couple of LED drivers. He wanted to see how hard it would be to get his own code running on the bulb, and by the looks of it, it took longer to get the thing open then it did to load it up with a custom firmware.

The bulb’s PCB features the aforementioned ESP8266, a 1MB 25Q80 flash chip, and MY9231 LED drivers. Whoever put the board together was nice enough to label the RX, TX, and GPIO test points, though [Majenko] notes that what’s labeled as 3.3 V appears dead. With a ESP-01 programmer wired up to the board and the appropriate board settings (which he provides), you can use the Arduino IDE to upload whatever you like to it.

Running “Hello World” on a smart bulb is fun and all, but what about kicking on those LEDs? [Majenko] found a library that works with the MY9231 drivers, and it didn’t take long to figure out which of the ESP’s pins were used to communicate with them. All in all, he said it was far easier than he expected.

You’ll probably want to put this bulb back into service after reprogramming, so [Majenko] advises caution when cracking open the shell. There are clips holding on the diffuser which he assures us are going to break no matter what you do, plus some silicone adhesive. He suggests super glue to hold it together when you’re done programming it, and using an OTA firmware so you don’t need to get back in there.

In the past we’ve shown how some hackers are rolling their own smart bulb hardware, but with cheap commercial offerings that are so easily hackable, it frankly doesn’t seem worth the effort. On the other hand, an influx of cheap ESP-powered bulbs isn’t all good news.

Ammo Can Holds A 14,000 Lumen LED Flashlight

For most people, a flashlight is just something you keep in a drawer in the kitchen in case the power goes out. There’s even a good chance your “flashlight” is just an application on your phone at this point. But as we’ve seen many times before from mechanical keyboards to Power Wheels, hardcore niche communities can develop around the most innocuous pieces of hardware; and the lowly flashlight is no different.

Case in point, this 14,000 lumen LED flashlight built by [Bryson Hicks]. Designed around a 100 watt module from Stratus LED, the flashlight uses a number of 3D printed components to make itself at home in a suitably hardcore enclosure: a metal ammo can. With the addition of some modular electronics and a rather slick little control panel, his light is ready to deliver an unreasonable level of brightness anywhere he wishes.

The Stratus LED module includes its own driver, and just needs to be hooked up to a suitably beefy power source to do its thing. [Bryson] went with a 4500 mAh LiPo battery that he says gets him about a one hour runtime at full brightness. For somewhat less intense operation, he’s added a potentiometer which interfaces with the module’s driver board to control the LED output. Considering how fast the light sucks down the juice, adding a small LCD battery charge indicator to the top of the device seems like it was a prudent decision.

To prevent you from cooking anyone’s eyes at close range, the light requires you to first “arm” it by flipping the military style protected switch. Once the switch is in the on position, an illuminated push button is used to actually turn the LED module on and off. You can also snap the toggle switch back into the closed and covered position if you needed to kill the light in a hurry.

This isn’t the first preposterously bright LED flashlight we’ve seen around these parts. There’s something of an arms-race between hackers and makers to develop increasingly bright lights they can carry around, on the off chance they need to illuminate an entire neighborhood.

A Surprisingly Practical Numitron Watch

Regular Hackaday readers are surely familiar with Nixie tubes: the fantastically retro cold cathode display devices that hackers have worked into all manner of devices (especially timepieces) to give them an infusion of glowing faux nostalgia. But unfortunately, Nixie displays are fairly fragile and can be tricky to drive due to their high voltage requirements. For those who might want to work with something more forgiving, a possible alternative is the Numitron that uses incandescent filaments for each segment.

There hasn’t been a lot of prior-art that utilizes Numitrons, but that might be changing, given how fantastic this wristwatch created by [Dycus] looks. With a multi-day battery life, daylight readability, and relatively straightforward construction, the Filawatch is likely to end up being something of a reference design for future Numitron watches.

[Dycus] has gone through three revisions of the Filawatch so far, with probably at least one more on the way. The current version is powered by a ATmega328 microcontroller with dual 16-bit LED drivers to control the filaments in the KW-104S Numitron display modules. He’s also included an accelerometer to determine when the wearer is looking at the display, and even a light sensor to control the brightness of the display depending on the ambient light level.

If there’s a downside to Numitron displays, it’s their monstrous energy consumption. Just like in the incandescent light bulbs most of us have been ditching for LED, it takes a lot of juice to get that filament glowing. [Dycus] reports the display draws as much as 350 mA while on, but by lighting it up for only five seconds at a time it can be checked around 150 times before the watch needs to be recharged.

Its been a few years since we’ve seen a Numitron watch, and it’s interesting to see how the state of the art has advanced.

[via /r/electronics]

New Part Day: I2C In, Charlieplexed LEDs Out

It seems that most of the electrical engineering covered on Hackaday concerns exactly one problem domain: how to blink a bunch of LEDs furiously. There are plenty of LED drivers out there, but one of the more interesting in recent memory came from ISSI in the form of a chip that turns I2C into a Charlieplexed LED array. You may have seen this chip — the IS31FL3731 — in the form of an Adafruit LED matrix and some stupid thing some idiot made, but with it you’re only ever going to get 144 LEDs in an array, not enough if you want real blinky bling.

Now ISSI has released a more capable chip that turns I2C into many more Charlieplexed LEDs. The IS31FL3741 will drive up to 351 LEDs in a 39×9 matrix, or if you’re really clever, an 18×18 single color LED matrix.

Features of this chip include reverse/short detection for each individual LED, 8-bit PWM, dimming functions, a de-ghosting feature that guarantees a LED is either on or off, a configurable row/column matrix, and a few other handy tools that you would like to see in a LED matrix driver chip. The most impressive chip in this series will be available for under $2/piece in quantities of 2500, although unlike the IS31FL3731, it appears this new chip will only be available in a QFN package.

Speaking from experience, this is a really great chip for driving a whole boatload of LEDs, provided you have a pick and place machine. Yes, you can hand-solder a QFN and several hundred 0402 LEDs, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I really, really wouldn’t recommend it. That said, this is the perfect chip for maximum blinky bling, and the press material from ISSI gives us the great idea of using one of these chips as the backlight controller for RGB LED mechanical keyboards. That’s a great application, and the chip is pretty cheap, too.

You can check out ISSI’s blinky demo video of this chip below.

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Coin-Sized LED Control

EE and firmware developer [Enrico] had played with LEDs as a kid, burning out his fair share of them by applying too much current. With the benefit of his firmware chops, he set about creating a board that drives LEDs properly.

[Enrico]’s project centers around a Texas Instruments LM3405 buck controller. It accepts input voltage from anywhere from 3V to 20V and outputs up to 20V/15W to one or more LEDs. He built a ton of safety features into it like short-circuit and open-circuit immunity, temperature control, and auto-off switching when idle. He also created a LED board to test the maximum efficiency of the driver. It consists of four Luxeon Rebel ES diodes, one each RGB and W. The entire back of the LED board is copper, with a monster heat sink attached.

You can follow along with the Glighter-S project on Hackaday.io, or you can buy one of his boards from his Tindie store.

We’ve covered LED drivers extensively in the past, with posts on a simple 10-watt LED driver and how to design your own LED driver.

Christmas Star Uses Two AA Batteries

When [hkdcsf] was a teenager, he made a Christmas star with an up counter driving decoder logic and using transistors to light LEDs in festive patterns. He’s revisited this project using modern techniques including a microcontroller, a DC/DC converter, and constant current LED drivers.

The project uses two AA batteries, and that’s what makes the DC/DC converter necessary. Blue LEDs have a forward voltage of just over 3V, and the LED driver chip requires about 0.6V of overhead. Two fresh AAs will run a tad above 3V, but as they discharge, or if he’s using rechargeables, there just won’t be enough potential. To make sure the star works even with whatever LEDs are chosen, the converter takes the nominal 3V from the batteries and converts it to 3.71V.

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Homemade LED Helmet

LEDHelmet

We’ve all seen Daft Punk helmet builds, but [George’s] project is a homemade LED helmet that takes no shortcuts and packs the visor full of hundreds of individual lights. He started with a prototype that uses a PIC 18F4580 microcontroller connected to a MAX7221 LED driver, which gave him control over some dot matrix displays to test the wiring and sample script. He then used this prototype setup to develop a scrolling text function.

With testing complete, [George] wired hundreds of LEDs into 8×8 block sections, using a cardboard jig to keep everything straight. He could have stopped there, but [George] took the build further, adding an LCD display and a 7-segment clock module to the inside of the helmet, in view of the wearer. The clock displays the helmet’s current beats per minute rate, while the LCD shows the content being displayed (pattern, text / Pacman, stripes). It’s possible to see out between the bottom of the display and the chin of the helmet. If you need better visibility we’d recommend a bike helmet matrix that isn’t as dense.

You can watch a video of the helmet running different patterns below. (Warning: music). When you’re done with that, why not LED all the things: from Infinity Mirrors to LED Sneakers.

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