Metasurface Design Methods Can Make LED Light Act More Like Lasers

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are not exactly new technology, but their use over time has evolved from rather dim replacements of incandescent signal lights in control panels to today’s home lighting. Although LEDs have the reputation of being power-efficient, there is still a lot of efficiency to be gained.

UC Santa Barbara researchers [Jonathan Schuller] and his team found that a large number of the photons that are generated never make it out of the LED. This means that the power that was used to generate these photons was essentially wasted. Ideally one would be able to have every single photon successfully make it out of the LED to contribute to the task of illuminating things.

In their paper titled ‘Unidirectional luminescence from InGaN/GaN quantum-well metasurfaces‘  (pre-publication Arxiv version) they describe the problem of photon emission in LEDs. Photons are normally radiated in all directions, causing a ‘spray’ of photons that can be guided somewhat by the LED’s packaging and other parameters. The challenge was thus to start at the beginning, having the LED emit as many photons in one direction as possible.

Their solution was the use of a metasurface-based design, consisting out of gallium nitride (GaN) nanorods on a sapphire substrate. These were embedded with indium gallium nitride (InGaN) quantum wells which emit the actual photons. According to one of the researchers, the idea is based on subwavelength antenna arrays already used with coherent light sources like lasers.

With experiments showing the simulated improvements, it seems that this research may lead to even brighter, more efficient LEDs before long if these findings translate to mass production.

(Thanks, Qes)

Seven-Segment Single-Steps Through The Time

Have you ever looked at the time, and then had to look again because it just didn’t register? This phenomenon seems more prevalent with phone timepieces, but it’s been known to happen with standard wall clocks, too. This latest offering in a stream of unusual clocks fashioned by [mircemk] solves that problem by forcing the viewer to pay attention as the time flashes by in a series of single digits, separated by a hyphen.

Inside the boxy blue base is an Arduino Nano, a DS3231 real-time clock module, and a perfboard full of transistors for switching the LED strips inside the segments. There’s an LED on the front that blinks the seconds, and honestly, we’re kind of on the fence about this part. It would be nice if it faded in and out, or was otherwise a little less distracting, but it did grow on us as we watched the demo.

We love the way this clock celebrates the seven-segment display, and only wish it were much bigger. The STLs and code are available if you want to make one, though they only cover the 7-segment part — the base is made of foam board. Check out the demo and build video after the break.

Would you rather hear the time go by in gentle chimes? Here’s chime clock that uses old hard drive actuators.

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Thunder Pack Is A Bolt Of Lightning For Wearables

Do you need portable power that packs a punch? Sure you do, especially if you want to light up the night by mummifying yourself with a ton of LED strips. You aren’t limited to that, of course, but it’s what we pictured when we read about [Jeremy]’s Thunder Pack. With four PWM channels at 2.3 A each, why not go nuts? [Jeremy] has already proven the Thunder Pack out by putting it through its paces all week at Burning Man.

Click to embiggen!

After a few iterations, [Jeremy] has landed on the STM32 microcontroller family and is currently working to upgrade to one with enough flash memory to run CircuitPython.

The original version was designed to run on a single 18650 cell, but [Jeremy] now has three boards that support similar but smaller rechargeable cells for projects that don’t need quite as much power.

We love how small and powerful this is, and the dongle hole is a great touch because it opens up options for building it into a wearable. [Jeremy] made a fantastic pinout diagram and has a ton of code examples in the repo. If you want to wade into the waters of wearables, let whimsical wearables wizard [Angela Sheehan] walk you through the waves.

Antique Pocket Watch Project Updates Antique Pocket Watch

Here at Hackaday we have a bit of a preoccupation with timepieces. Maybe it’s the deeply personal connection to an object you wear on your body, or the need for ultimate reliability. Perhaps it’s just a fascination with the notion of time itself. Whatever the case, we don’t seem to be alone as there is a constant stream of time-related projects coming through our virtual doors. For this article we’ve unearthed the LED Pocketwatch 1.0 by [Dr. Pauline Pounds] from way back in 2009 (ironically via a post about a wristwatch from last year!). Fortunately for us the Internet Archive has saved this heirloom nouveau from the internet dustbin so we can appreciate the craftsmanship involved in [Dr. Pounds]’ work.

Check out the wonderful, spiral routing!

My how far we’ve come; a decade after this project was posted a hacker might choose to 3d print a case for a new wearable, but in 2009 that would have been an entire project by itself! [Dr. Pounds] chose to use the casing from an antique Elgin pocket watch. Even through the mists of a grainy demo video we can imagine how soft the well-worn casing must be from heavy use. This particular unit was chosen because it was a hefty 50mm in diameter, leaving plenty of room inside for a 44mm double sided PCBA with 133 0603 LEDs (60 seconds, 60 minutes, 12 hours), a PIC 16F946, an ERM, and a 110mAh LiPo. But what really sets the LED Pocketwatch 1.0 apart is the user interface.

The ERM is attached directly to the rear of the case in order to best conduct vibration to the outside world. For maximum authenticity it blips on the second, to give a sense that the digital watch is mechanically ticking like the original. The original pocket watch was designed with a closing lid which is released when the stem is pressed. [Dr. Pounds] integrated a button and encoder with the end of the stem (on the PCBA) so the device can be aware of this interaction; on lid open it wakes the device to display the time on the LEDs. The real pièce de résistance is that he also integrated a minuscule rotary encoder, so when the stem is pressed you can rotate it to set the time. It’s all quite elegantly integrated and imminently usable.

At this point we’d love to link to sources, detailed drawings, or CAD files, but unfortunately we haven’t found any. If this has you inspired check out some of the other pocket watches we’ve posted about in the past. If you’re interested in a live demo of the LED Pocketwatch 1.0, check out the original video after the break.

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Hackaday Podcast 045: Raspberry Pi Bug, Rapidly Aging Vodka, Raining On The Cloud, And This Wasn’t A Supercon Episode

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams talk over the last three weeks full of hacks. Our first “back to normal” podcast after Supercon turns out to still have a lot of Supercon references in it. We discuss Raspberry Pi 4’s HDMI interfering with its WiFi, learn the differences between CoreXY/Delta/Cartesian printers, sip on Whiskey aged in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, and set up cloud printing that’s already scheduled for the chopping block. Along the way, you’ll hear hints of what happened at Supercon, from the definitive guide to designing LEDs for iron-clad performance to the projects people hauled along with them.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (71 MB)

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Beam Me Up To The PCB Space Ship

This project would fit in perfectly with #BadgeLife if someone could figure out a way to hang it from their neck. Inspired by Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise, [bobricius] decided to design and assemble a miniature space ship PCB model, complete with 40 blinking LEDs controlled by an ATtiny85.

While the design uses 0603, 0802, 3014, 4014, and 0805 LEDs, some substitutions can be made since the smallest LEDs can be difficult to solder. The light effects include a green laser, plasma coils, a deflector with scrolling blue LEDs, and the main plate and bridge for the space ship.

The LEDs are controlled by charlieplexing, a technique for driving LED arrays with relatively few I/O pins, different from traditional multiplexing. Charlieplexing allows n pins to drive n2−n LEDs, while traditional multiplexing allows n pins to drive (n/2)2 LEDs. (Here is the best explanation of Charlieplexing we’ve ever seen.)

Especially with the compiled firmware running on the MCU, the PCB model makes for an impressive display.

The only catch? Your Starship Enterprise can’t actually fly.

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Infinity Icosahedron Is Difficult To Contemplate Even Looking Right At It

Cubes and pyramids are wonderful primitive three-dimensional objects, but everyone knows that the real mystical power is in icosahedrons. Yes, the twenty-sided polyhedron does more than just ruin your saving throws in tabletop RPGs – it can also glow and look shiny in your loungeroom at home.

[janth]’s build relies on semitransparent acrylic mirrors for the infinity effect, lasercut into triangles to form the faces of the icosahedron. The frame is built out of 3D printed rails which slot on to the acrylic mirrors, and also hold the LED strips. [janth] chose high-density strips with 144 LEDs per meter for a more consistent effect, and added frosted acrylic diffusers to all the strips for a clean look with less hotspots from the individual LEDs.

An ESP32 runs the show, and the whole assembly is epoxied together for strength. The final effect is very future disco, and it’s probably against medical advice to stare at it for more than 5 minutes at a time.

The infinity effect is a popular one, and we’ve seen a beautiful cube build by [Heliox] in recent times. Of course, if you do manage to build an actual portal through time and space, and not just a lamp that looks like one, be sure to send us a tip. Video after the break.

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