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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Jumbo LED Matrix Brings Classic Sprites To Life

Despite all the incredible advancements made in video game technology over the last few decades, the 8-bit classics never seem to go out of style. Even if you weren’t old enough to experience these games when they were new, it’s impossible not to be impressed by what the early video game pioneers were able to do with such meager hardware. They’re a reminder of what can be accomplished with dedication and technical mastery.

The grid has been split up for easier printing.

If you’d like to put a little retro inspiration on your desk, take a look at this fantastic 16 x 16 LED matrix put together by [Josh Gerdes]. While it’s obviously not the only thing you could use it for, the display certainly seems particularly adept at showing old school video game sprites in all their pixelated glory. There’s something about the internal 3D printed grid that gives the sprites a three dimensional look, while the diffused glow reminds us of nights spent hunched over a flickering CRT.

The best part might be how easy it is to put one of these together for yourself. You’ve probably got most of what you need in the parts bin; essentially it’s just a WS2812B strip long enough to liberate 256 LEDs from and a microcontroller to drive them. [Josh] used an Arduino Nano, but anything compatible with the FastLED library would be a drop-in replacement. You’ll also need a 3D printer to run off the grid, and something to put the whole thing into. The 12×12 shadowbox used here looks great, but we imagine clever folks such as yourselves could make do with whatever might be laying around if you can’t nip off to the arts and crafts store right now.

Beyond looking great, this project is a fantastic reminder of how incredibly handy WS2812 LEDs really are. Whether you’re recreating iconic game sprites or fashioning your own light-up sunglasses, it’s hard to imagine how we managed before these little wonders hit the scene.

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LEGO My Colorful Custom Clock

[Sofia] spent a lot of time looking around for the perfect LEGO clock. Eventually, she realized that the perfect LEGO clock is, of course, the one you build yourself. So if you find yourself staring at the same old boring clock, contemplating time and the meaning of time itself, why not spend some time making a new timepiece?

You probably already had the LEGO out (no judgment here). This build doesn’t take a whole lot of building blocks — just a microcontroller, a real-time clock module, some LED matrices to display the digits, shift registers if they’re not already built into the matrices, and a pair of buttons for control. [Sofia] used an Arduino Nano, but any microcontroller with enough I/O ought to work. Everybody needs a colorful new way to block out their time.

We love the way this clock looks, especially the transparent panels in front of the LED panels. Given the countless custom pieces out there from all the special sets over the years, we bet you could come up with some really interesting builds.

If your kid is too young to tell time, try building a kid-friendly clock to give them segmented structure.

Via r/duino

Arduino Drives A 600-Character Display

[Peterthinks] admits he’s no cabinet maker, so his projects use a lot of hot glue. He also admits he’s no video editor. However, his latest video uses some a MAX7219 to create a 600 character scrolling LED sign. You can see a video of the thing, below. Spoiler alert: not all characters are visible at once.

The heart of the project is a MAX7219 4-in-1 LED display that costs well under $10. The board has four LED arrays resulting in a display of 8×32 LEDs. The MAX7219 takes a 16-bit data word over a 10 MHz serial bus, so programming is pretty easy.

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Build A DSLR Photo Booth The Easy Way

It’s a well-known fact in capitalist societies that any product or service, if being used in a wedding, instantly triples in cost. Wanting to avoid shelling out big money for a simple photo booth for a friend’s big day, [Lewis] decided to build his own.

Wanting a quality photo output, a Canon DSLR was selected to perform photographic duties. An Arduino Nano is then pressed into service to run the show. It’s hooked up to a MAX7219 LED matrix which feeds instructions to the willing participants, who activate the system with a giant glowing arcade button. When pressed, the Nano waits ten seconds and triggers the camera shutter, doing so three times. Images are displayed on a screen hooked up to the camera’s USB HDMI port.

It’s a build that keeps things simple. No single-board PCs needed, just a camera, an Arduino, and a monitor for the display. We’re sure the wedding-goers had a great time, and we look forward to seeing what [Lewis] comes up with next. We’ve seen a few of his hacks around here before, too.

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Rise And Shine With This Japanese-Inspired Clock

On the Hackaday.io page for his gorgeous “Sunrise Alarm Clock”, [The Big One] is quick to point out that his design is only inspired by Japanese lanterns, and does not use authentic materials or traditional woodworking techniques. Perhaps that’s an important fact to some, but we’ll just say that the materials used seem far less important when the end result looks this good.

Unfortunately [The Big One] hasn’t provided any interior shots of his clock, as it sounds like the aesthetics of the internal wiring isn’t quite up to the standard set by the outside of it. But he has provided a concise parts list, a wiring diagram, and source code, so we’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s under the hood.

The clock is powered by the uBBB 32u4, an ATMega32u4 development board that [The Big One] developed in conjunction with [Warren Janssens]. It uses the popular MAX7219 LED matrix for the display, and a DS3231 RTC module to help keep the time. There’s also a DFPlayer Mini module onboard that allows him to play whatever sound effects or music he wants when the alarm goes off.

Of course the star of the show is the LED strips which illuminate the shōji-style column. These have apparently been wrapped around a coffee can of all things, which not only serves as a convenient way of holding the strips, but [The Big One] says actually makes the speaker sound a bit better. Hey, whatever works.

This isn’t the first “lantern” clock to grace these pages, but compared to the high-tech presentation of previous projects, we can’t help but be impressed by the grace and elegance of this wooden masterpiece.

An ESP32 Clock With A Transforming LED Matrix

Over the years we’ve seen countless ways of displaying the current time, and judging by how many new clock projects that hit the tip line, it seems as though there’s no end in sight. Not that we’re complaining, of course. The latest entry into the pantheon of unusual timepieces is this ESP32-powered desk clock from [Alejandro Wurts] that features a folding LED matrix display.

The clock uses eight individual 8 x 8 LED arrays contained in a 3D printed enclosure that hinges in the middle. When opened up the clock has a usable resolution of 8 x 64, and when its folded onto itself the resolution becomes 16 x 32.

This variable physical resolution allows for alternate display modes. When the hardware detects that its been folded into the double-height arrangement, it goes into a so-called “Big Clock” mode that makes it easier to see the time from a distance. But while in single-height mode, there’s more horizontal real estate for adding the current temperature or other custom data. Eventually [Alejandro] wants to use MQTT to push messages to the display, but for now it just shows his name as a placeholder.

The key to the whole project is the hinged enclosure and the reed switch used to detect what position it’s currently in. Beyond that, there’s just an ESP32 an some clever code developed with the help of the MD_Parola library written for MAX7219 and MAX7221 LED matrix controllers. [Alejandro] has published the code for his clock, which should be helpful for anyone who’s suddenly decided that they also need a folding LED matrix in their life.

Now if the ESP32 LED matrix project you have in mind requires full color and high refresh rates, don’t worry, we’ve got a solution for that.
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