Persistence of Vision (POV) is a curious part of the human visual system. It’s the effect by which the perception of an image lingers after light has stopped entering the eye. It’s why a spinning propeller appears as a disc, and why a burning sparkler appears to leave a trail in the air. It’s also commonly used as a display technology, where a series of flashing LEDs can be used to create messages that appear to float in the air. POV displays are a popular microcontroller project, and today, we’ll explore the basic techniques and skills required in such builds.
Sometimes a beautiful project is worth writing on that merit alone, but when it functions as designed,someone takes the time to create a thorough and beautiful landing page for their project, we get weak in the knees. We feel the need to grab the internet and point our finger for everyone to see. This is one of those projects that checks all our boxes. [Nathan Petersen] made a POV toy top called Razzler, jumping through every prototyping hoop along the way. The documentation he kept is what captured our hearts.
The project is a spinning top with an integrated persistence-of-vision (POV) display. That’s the line of LEDs that you see here. To sync up the patterns, the board includes an IMU, but detecting angular velocity with either gyroscope or accelerometer proved problematic. [Nathan’s] writeup of this is worth the read itself, but you’ll also enjoy the CNC workworking part of the project used to create the body of the spinning top.
This was [Nathan]’s first big solo project, and so many of the steps are explained by someone who just entered the deep-end very quickly. If you have experience, you may grin at the simplified reasonings, but for a novice, it makes for an approachable lesson. The way he selects hardware and firmware is pragmatic and perhaps even overkill, so you know he’s going into engineering. This overshot saved him when there were communication problems which needed a sacrifice of some processing power to run I2C on some GPIO.
When [Im-pro] wants a display, he wants it to spin. So he built a persistence of vision (POV) display capable of showing a 12-bit color image of 131 x 131 pixels at 16 frames per second. You can see a video about the project below, but don’t worry, you can view it on your normal monitor.
The project starts with a Java-based screen capture on a PC. Data goes to the display wirelessly to an ESP8266. However, the actual display drive is done by an FPGA that drives the motor, reads a hall effect index sensor, and lights the LEDs.
We’ve covered plenty of persistence of vision (POV) displays before, but this one from [Vadim] is rather fun: it’s built on top of a PC fan. He’s participating in a robot building competition soon and wanted to have a POV display. So, why not kill two birds with one stone and build the display onto a fan that could also be used for ventilation?
The display is a stand-alone module that includes a battery, Neopixels, Arduino and an NRF240L01 radio that receives the images to be displayed. That might seem like overkill, but putting the whole thing on a platform that rotates does get around the common issue of powering and sending signals to a rotating display: there is no need for slip connections.
[Vadim] goes into a good level of detail on how he built the display, including the problems he had diagnosing a faulty LED chip, and why it is important to test at each stage as it is easier to debug when the display isn’t whizzing around at high speed.
It’s a bit of a rough build that uses more protoboard than might be necessary, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn’t fly off during the competition.
Like many of us, [Gustav Evertsson] was looking for an excuse to set stuff on fire and spin it around really fast to see what would happen. Luckily for him (and us) the Winter Olympics have started, which ended up being the perfect guise for this particular experiment. With some motors from eBay and some flaming steel wool, he created a particularly terrifying version of the Olympic’s iconic linked rings logo. Even if you won’t be tuning in for the
commercials Winter Games, you should at least set aside 6 minutes to watch this build video.
The beginning of the build starts with some mounting brackets getting designed in Fusion 360, and you would be forgiven if you thought some 3D printed parts were coming up next. But [Gustav] actually loads the design up on a Carbide 3D CNC and cuts them out of wood.
A metal hub is attached to each bracket, and then the two pieces are screwed onto a length of thin wood. This assembly is then mounted up to the spindle of a geared motor rated for 300 RPM. The end result looks like a large flat airplane propeller. Five of these “propellers” are created, one for each ring of the Olympic’s logo.
Once the sun sets, [Gustav] takes his collection of spinners outside and lines them up like windmills. At the end of each arm is a small ball of fine-grade steel wool, which will emit sparks for a few seconds when lighted. All you’ve got to do is get the 10 pieces of steel wool alight at the same time, spin up the motors, and let persistence of vision do the rest. If you can manage the timing, you’ll be treated with a spinning and sparking version of the Olympic rings that wouldn’t look out of place in a new Mad Max movie.
Generally speaking, we don’t see much overlap between the hacker community and the Olympics. You’d have to go all the way back to 2012 to find another project celebrating this particular display of athleticism. We would strongly caution you not to combine both of these Olympic hacks at the same time, incidentally.
We’ve been frankly mystified at the popularity of fidget spinners. After all, we can flip an ink pen around just fine. However, [MakersBox] just sold us on what he calls the geek spinner. The fact that the spinner is actually a PCB and has parts on it, would probably have been cool enough. However, the spinner also has a persistence of vision LED set up and can display 12 characters of text as it spins. Because the board is simple and uses through hole components, it would be a great project for a budding young hacker. You can see a video below.
The instructions are geared towards someone attempting their first project, too. If you know how to solder and insert a DIP IC, you might find you’ll skim them, but it is pretty straightforward. The 8 LEDs on one side operate from an ATTiny CPU, which you can program with an Arduino. The spinner has a hall effect sensor and a magnet to figure out the index position of the spin — crucial for displaying text.
Although the board attempts to balance the components, the battery side is apparently a little heavy. The suggestion is to add some weight using some hardware or solder to that side. Speaking of solder, the bearing in the center solders to the PCB. That’s going to take a lot of heat, so maybe you can finally use Dad’s soldering gun that has been gathering dust under your bench.
We liked the polar graph provided to help you set up the code for your own messages. The text implies there is a picture of one of these graphs filled out, but we think he forgot to include that picture. However, it is clear enough how to use it, and it would make it very easy to make your own text or any design that the spinner could produce.
This isn’t the first POV spinner, by the way. [MakersBox] has a nice set of acknowledgments for projects he’s seen or borrowed from, but the other one he mentions uses surface mount. Granted, surface mount isn’t a problem for most people these days, but starting out, it might be nice to stick with a through-hole design. If you want a more useful spinner, you can always make some music.
3 hackers, 16 LEDs, 15 years of development, one goal: A persistence of vision display stick that fits into your pocket. That’s the magicShifter 3000. When waved, the little, 10 cm (4 inches) long handheld device draws stable images in midair using the persistence of vision effect. Now, the project has reached another milestone: production.
The design has evolved since it started with a green LED bargraph around 2002. The current version features 16 APA102 (aka DotStar) RGB LEDs, an ESP-12E WiFi module, an NXP accelerometer/magnetometer, the mandatory Silabs USB interface, as well as a LiPo battery and charger with an impressive portion of power management. An Arduino-friendly firmware implements image stabilization as well as a React-based web interface for uploading and drawing images.
After experimenting with Seeedstudio for their previous prototypes, the team manufactured 500 units in Bulgaria. Their project took them on a roundtrip through hardware manufacturing. From ironing out minuscule flaws for a rock-solid design, over building test rigs and writing test procedures, to yield management. All magicShifter enclosures are — traditionally — 3D printed, so [Overflo] and [Martin] are working in shifts to start the 500 prints, which take about 50 minutes each to complete. The printers are still buzzing, but assembled units can be obtained in their shop.
Over all the years, the magicShifter has earned fame and funding as the over-engineered open hardware pocket POV stick. If you’re living in Europe, chances are that you either already saw one of the numerous prototype units or ran into [Phillip Tiefenbacher] aka [wizard23] on a random hacker event to be given a brief demo of the magicShifter. The project always documented the status quo of hardware hacking: Every year, it got a bit smaller, better, and reflected what parts happened to be en vogue.
The firmware and 3D-printable enclosure are still open source and the schematics for the latest design can be found on GitHub. Although, you will search in vain for layout or Gerber files. The risk of manufacturing large batches and then being put out of business by cheap clones put its mark on the project, letting the magicShifter reflect the current, globalized status of hardware hacking once more. Nevertheless, we’re glad the bedrock of POV projects still persists. Check out the catchy explanatory video below.