LED Art Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, July 1 at noon Pacific for the LED Art Hack Chat with Aaron Oppenheimer!

From the first time humans crawled into a cave with a bit of charcoal to sketch scenes from the world around them, artists have been searching for new media and new ways to express themselves. Natural products ruled for thousands of years, with pigments stolen or crafted from nature as well as wood, ivory, bone, and stone for carving. Time and experience guided our ancestors to new and better formulations and different materials, to the point that what qualifies as art and what we’d normally think of as technology have, in many cases, blended into one, with the artist often engineering projects of mammoth proportions and breathtaking beauty.

Aaron Oppenheimer co-founded color+light, a company that specializes in large-scale custom art installations for companies like Google, Nike, and Nissan. One of their projects, the “Oddwood Tree”, is displayed alongside other gigantic art pieces at Area15 on the Las Vegas strip. His most recent project, fluora, is a digital houseplant, with addressable LEDs in the leaves that can be controlled by a smartphone app or respond to stimuli in the environment.

Aaron will join us on the Hack Chat to discuss the LED as artistic medium. Join us as we learn what it takes to make enormous art that’s strong enough to interact with yet responsive enough to be engaging.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 1 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Chaotic Oscillator From Antique Logic

While working on recreating an “ancient” (read: 60-year-old) logic circuit type known as resistor-transistor logic, [Tim] stumbled across a circuit with an unexpected oscillation. The oscillation appeared to be random and had a wide range of frequency values. Not one to miss out on a serendipitous moment, he realized that the circuit he built could be used as a chaotic oscillator.

Chaotic systems can be used for, among other things, random number generation, so making sure that they do not repeat in a reliable way is a valuable property of a circuit. [Tim]’s design uses LEDs in series with the base of each of three transistors, with the output of each transistor feeding into the input of the next transistor in line, forming a ring. At certain voltages close to the switching voltages of the transistors, the behavior of the circuit changes unpredictably both in magnitude and frequency.

Building real-life systems that exhibit true randomness or chaotic behavior are surprisingly rare, and even things which seem random are often not random enough for certain applications. [Tim]’s design benefits from being relatively simple and inexpensive for how chaotic it behaves, and if you want to see his detailed analysis of the circuit be sure to visit his project’s page.

If you want to get your chaos the old fashioned way, with a Chua circuit, look out for counterfeit multipliers.

Hacking A Cheap Disco Light For UV Effects

Back in the early days of disco, filament bulbs were all the rage. Whether tungsten, halogen, or other obscure types, party lighting involved lots of watts and lots of heat. These days, the efficiency of LEDs makes everything a lot cheaper, lighter, and lower power. [Big Clive] decided to dive into a cheap moonflower-type disco light from China, replacing the insides along the way.

The final effect particularly shines when used on fluorescent materials.

The light originally consisted of an 8×8 grid of LEDs, driven by shift registers for a simple chase effect. Surprisingly, the power supply and other hardware inside seemed to at least make an attempt to meet UK regulations. However, [Big Clive] had other plans, whipping up a replacement PCB packing 64 UV LEDs. The video is informative, showing how with a few simple passive components, it’s easy to drive these LEDs from mains without excessive circuitry required to step down to more usual DC voltages.

The final result is a neat UV grid light that would look excellent through some fog on the dance floor. We’ve seen [Big Clive]’s teardowns before, too – like this nefarious CAN bus interceptor found in a Mercedes. Video after the break.

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Office Status Light Turns “Do Not Disturb” To “Busy”

Open-plan offices with too many desks crammed into them are the scourge of many a tech start-up, and at [Danny Salzman]’s employer, distractions reached an all-time high. His boss instigated a free/busy indicator using coloured cards, but he felt he could do one better and came up with an IoT status light to do the job.

At its heart is a machinery status light of the tri-colour “traffic light” variety, driven by a set of relays under the command of a Particle Photon STM32 ARM Cortex M3 based microcontroller board. The plan to write a super-clever API and integration with Slack or Google Calendar never came together, instead it’s operated by a set of bash shell aliases.

Unfortunately for [Danny] though, it didn’t work as intended. Instead of his colleagues staying away as he had hoped, they flocked to his desk to ask about the new feature, making it not entirely useful as a “Do Not Disturb” light. Still, we like it, and it’s given us ideas about those machinery status lights.

He says he may dig it out for his home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Perhaps he could take some inspiration from this home WiFi status dongle.

Cheap Party Light Gets Arduino Upgrade

If you’ve got a party coming up and are looking to add a little bit of excitement, you might be interested in this recent project from [Gav Lewis]. The build is based on a commercially available party light, but with some upgraded components the final product is brighter and more dynamic than it was stock.

Realistically, [Gav] has changed out almost every component of this light except for the enclosure and the front lens. The original 5 mm LED array was replaced with a new 8×8 WS2812B panel, and the electronics completely replaced with an Arduino Nano. He’s still using the light’s original power supply, but as it only puts out around 4.2 V, he’s added a boost converter to provide a stable 5 V for the new hardware. He also added a small 12 V cooling fan, which he says is basically silent since it’s only getting half its rated voltage.

[Gav] has developed a number of lighting patterns with FastLED that do a good job of emulating what you might see from a much more expensive laser scanner. In the video after the break, you can see how multiple colored beams of light exit the housing at once, projecting patterns on the opposite wall. He says he’s like to restore the device’s original sound activation mode, but as of yet hasn’t gotten the code sorted out.

This project uses a off-the-shelf 8×8 matrix of WS2812B LEDs, but if you ever find yourself needing to piece together your own array from individual LEDs, we recently covered a great tip for making it a bit easier.

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Tiny Laser Cutter Puts Micro Steppers To Work

The influx of cheap laser cutters from China has been a boon to the maker movement, if at the cost of a lot of tinkering to just get the thing to work. So some people just prefer to roll their own, figuring that starting from scratch means you get exactly what you want. And apparently what [Mike Rankin] wanted was a really, really small laser cutter.

The ESP32 Burninator, as [Mike] lovingly calls his creation, is small enough to be in danger of being misplaced accidentally. The stage relies on tiny stepper-actuated linear drives, available on the cheap from AliExpress. The entire mechanical structure is two PCBs — a vertical piece that holds the ESP32, an OLED display, the X-axis motor, and the driver for the laser, which comes from an old DVD burner; a smaller bottom board holds the Y-axis and the stage. “Stage” is actually a rather grand term for the postage-stamp-sized working area of this cutter, but the video below shows that it does indeed cut black paper.

The cuts are a bit wonky, but this is surely to be expected given the running gear, and we like it regardless. It sort of reminds us of that resin 3D-printer small enough to fit in a Christmas ornament that [Sean Hodgins] did a while back. We’d suggest not trying to hang this on a tree, though.

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Dim Hallway Gets Lighting Upgrade

There’s nothing worse than a lightswitch that’s nowhere near where it should be, leaving you fumbling around in the dark. [supersquirrel72] had just this problem, and decided to put an Arduino to work instead.

Rather than using the original mains lighting that was poorly positioned and not enough to light the hall, instead 2 meters of white LED strip was chosen. The form factor is perfect for lighting a long, thin space – far better than running a series of seperate bulbs. The strip was rigged up to an Arduino Uno, that triggers the lights when movement is detected with a simple PIR motion sensor. After some feedback from the other occupants of the house, it was decided to tweak things further. An RTC was implemented to allow the Arduino to keep things dimmer after 9PM, so as to not wake others when making a trip to the kitchen for a midnight snack.

It’s a simple solution which brightens up the hallway nicely. We imagine this could just be the first step to a yet-more-integrated lighting solution in [supersquirrel72]’s house. Whether it’s IOT lights or something more festive, we can’t wait to see what’s next.