The ESP32 and ESP8266 spread like wildfire a few years ago due to their small form factor, low price, and wireless capability. They didn’t just take over the DIY scene, though. Plenty of mass market products began to incorporate these tiny chips as well, which means that there are some interesting pre-made devices around that are ripe for modification. In this case, using an off-brand smart light bulb as a base for an semi-proprietary lighting setup.
The lighting in this build is a generic RGB light bulb with the ability to control its color over Wi-Fi. Since it has an ESP8266 chip in it, it can be made to work with Philips Hue lights with some minor modifications, allowing a much wider range of control than otherwise available. For this one, [Vadim] needed to pry open the bulb case to access the chip, then solder wires to it for reprogramming. It needed power during this step which meant plugging the resulting mess of wires back into a lamp socket, but after this step the new programming allows the bulb to be reprogrammed remotely.
After that step is complete, though, the generic bulb is ready for its inclusion into a Hue lighting system. In this case, [Vadim] is using diyHue, a Hue emulator that allows control of the bulbs without needing to use any cloud services, running on a BeagleBone. It’s a fairly comprehensive way of adding many different types and brands of bulbs to one system, and avoids any subscription models or the use of a cloud service, which is always something we can get behind.
We know you’re beautiful, but maybe that cheap web camera from 2007 doesn’t always project your best image. Although web cameras are starting to come back down from the pandemic price gouging days, you could just build yourself a ring light and go from there, because better light may be all you need to look great.
Of course, this isn’t going to be cheaper than just buying a ring light, but if you already have a Circuit Playground and 3D printer lying around, you’re about halfway to owning one that’s much cooler than anything you can buy. The only other major hardware is the RGBW LED ring, the slide pots that adjust the light color, and the clicky little button that exits out of Zoom calls.
The business part is made to mount right over the camera, so the only part that has a footprint is the control box. No need to make space for a tripod or another boom. If you’re worried about staring into a bunch of lights, there’s a diffusing ring among the print files. We think this setup looks great, especially since [Southern Fried Science] built a light guide into the enclosure so those LED on the Circuit Playground don’t go to waste.
For most of us, the solution to having a non-dimmable LED light bulb but needing a dimmable one is a simple as a drive to the store to get the right kind of bulb. But that seems downright boring, not to mention wasteful, so when [Leo Fernekes] was faced with this problem, he looked for a way to make a non-dimmable bulb dimmable.
To be fair, there was a financial aspect to this hack, too. [Leo] had a bunch of cheap non-dimmable light fixtures he wanted to put to use. He started with a teardown and reverse-engineering of a light strip, which contains little more than LEDs and a small buck converter. His analysis of the circuit led him to a solution for dimming the light: inserting a MOSFET as a shunt around the LEDs. That and the addition of a diode to isolate the LEDs from the current regulator would allow for simple PWM-control of the lights via a microcontroller.
As is typical with these things, there were complications. [Leo] found that a timing problem resulted in flickering LEDs; the fix came from adding a sync circuit that cleverly leveraged a flip-flop inside the PIC16 microcontroller he chose for the circuit. His prototype incorporates these modifications, plus an interface that supports the DALI protocol for architectural lighting control. As always, [Leo] is quick to point out that mixing line voltage into your projects is not without risks, which he takes pains to mitigate. And as is also typical for his projects, [Leo] gives just the right amount of detail to understand the theory behind his design.
The great distance between the Sun and the Earth means that the sun’s rays are essentially parallel from our local vantage point. Replicating this, and the soothing nature of a blue sky, were [Matt]’s primary goals with the project. To achieve this, an old satellite dish was pressed into service as a parabolic reflector, coated with mirror-finish vinyl strips. A 500W white LED with a good color rendering index was fitted at the focal point, outfitted with a water cooling system to shed heat. With a point source at its focal point, the parabolic reflector bounces the light such that it the rays are parallel, giving the sense that the light source is coming from an effectivelyl infinite distance away. To then achieve the blue sky effect, the light was then passed through a glass chamber filled with soapy water, which scatters the light using the Tyndall effect. This mimics the Rayleigh scattering in Earth’s atmosphere.
The final result is amazing, with [Matt] shooting footage that appears to be filmed in genuine daylight – despite being shot at night or on rainy days. He also features a cutdown build that can be achieved in a far cheaper and compact form, using Fresnel lenses and blue film. We’ve featured [Matt]’s daylight experiments before, though we’re amazed at the new level reached. Video after the break.
We consider ourselves well-versed when it comes to the technical literature plastered on hardware store parts. Acronyms don’t frighten us, and our Google-fu is strong enough to overcome most mysteries. One bit of dark magic we didn’t understand was the gobbledygook on LED lamps. Wattage is easy and color temperature made sense because it corresponds with warm and cool colors, but Color Rendering Index (CRI) sounds like deep magic. Of course, some folks understand these terms so thoroughly that they can teach the rest of us, like [Jon] and [Kevin], who are building a light controller that corrects inadequacies in cheap lamps by installing several lamps into one unit.
We learned a lot by reading their logs, which are like the Cliff Notes from a lighting engineer’s textbook, but we’ll leave it as an exercise for the students to read through. Their project uses precise light sensors to measure the “flavor” of light coming off cheap lamps so you can mix up a pleasing ratio. In some ways, they are copying the effects of incandescent bulbs, which emit light relatively evenly across the visible light spectrum, right into the infrared. Unfortunately, cheap LEDs have holes in their spectrum coverage, and a Warm White unit has different gaps compared with Daylight, but combining them just right gives a rich output, without breaking the bank.
There are some incredibly cheap WiFi smart bulbs on the market these days, but as is often the case, you tend to get what you pay for. When [Viktor] took delivery of his latest bargain basement bulb, the thing didn’t even work. So much for Quality Assurance. On the plus side, it was a great excuse to pop it open and replace the firmware.
For anyone wondering, [Viktor] never actually figured out why the bulb didn’t work. Its ESP8266-based control board was getting power, and data was getting spit out of the serial port when he connected it to the computer (although he never got the communications settings right to actually see what it was saying). But he also didn’t care much; once he confirmed that the hardware was good, he just uploaded the custom firmware he’d previously developed for another ESP8266 bulb.
Of course, it wasn’t quite that easy. The chances that both bulbs would have used the same GPIO pins to control the red, green, blue, and white LEDs were pretty slim. But after some testing and modifications to the code, he was able to fire them up. The other issue was a bit trickier, as it turned out the bulb’s flash chip was too small to hold his firmware’s web configuration pages. So he had to break out the hot air gun and replace the SPI flash chip with something a bit roomier. We suppose he could have just made smaller web pages… but where’s the fun in that?
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.