Tiny LED Cube Packs Six Meters Of Madness

When [Freddie] was faced with the challenge of building a sendoff gift for an an LED-loving coworker he hatched a plan. Instead of making a display from existing video wall LED panels he would make a cube. But not just any cube, a miniature desk sized one that wasn’t short of features or performance. We’d be over the moon if someone gifted us with this itty-bitty Qi coil-powered masterpiece of an RGB cube.

Recently we’ve been blessed with a bevy of beautiful, animated RGB cubes but none hit quite this intersection of size and function. The key ingredient here is tiny but affordable RGB LEDs which measure 1 mm on a side. But LEDs this small are dwarfed by the otherwise minuscule “2020” package WS2812’s and APA102s of the world. Pushing his layout capabilities to the max [Freddie] squeezed each package together into a grid with elements separated by less than 1 mm, resulting in a 64 LED panel that is only 16 mm x 16 mm panel (with test points and controller mounted to the back). Each of these four-layer PCBs that makes up the completed cube contains an astonishing 950 mm of tracking, meaning the entire cube has nearly six meters of traces!

How do you power such a small device with no obvious places to locate a connector? By running magnet wire through a corner and down to a Qi coil of course. Not to let the cube itself outshine the power supply [Freddie] managed to deadbug a suitably impressive supply on the back of the coil itself. Notice the grain of rice in the photo to the left! The only downside here is that the processor – which hangs diagonally in the cube on a tiny motherboard – cannot be reprogrammed. Hopefully future versions will run programming lines out as well.

Check out the video of the cube in action after the break, and the linked photo album for much higher resolution macro photos of the build. While you’re there take a moment to admire the layout sample from one of the panels! If this sets the tone, we’re hoping to see more of [Freddie]’s going-away hacks in the future!

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Faux-Neon Sign Says What?, Auf Deutsch

To a speaker of English, a sign asking ‘Was?” may not make much sense. In German, however, the question is a more thought-provoking “What?” That’s exactly the point of this faux-neon sign created by [noniq]. The sign uses silicone-enclosed “neon-like” LED strips to spell out the question for all to see — and ponder.

While true neon aficionados will bristle at even calling such LED strips “faux neon” (check the comments below for examples), we really like them for sign projects like this. They’re great-looking, inexpensive, easy to work with, and available with RGB LEDs for variable colors. In this case, they were mounted on 3 mm polystyrene plate glued to a wooden frame made from 22 mm square beams.

One of the things that caught our eye about this build is the use of a CNC mill to create a prototype. With the strokes milled out of a foam board, the final effect could be visualized before committing to the design. This board later served as a template for cutting the LED strips to length — clever! We suspect this could also be done with a hobby knife and a liberal dose of patience by those without access to a CNC mill.

Of course, this type of project doesn’t always turn out perfect the first time. The sign was missing a dot for the question mark, light leakage from ends of the individual segments was creating distracting bright spots on the base, areas where the silicone had been removed to connect the LEDs were noticeably darker, and the letters looked too thin. We’re looking forward to the promised second post, in which [noniq] describes the solution to these issues.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these LED strips used for sign-making, like in this logo build last Spring.

The Gorgeous Hardware We Can’t Take Our Eyes Away From

High resolution digital cameras are built into half of the devices we own (whether we want them or not), so why is it still so hard to find good pictures of all the incredible projects our readers are working on? In the recently concluded Beautiful Hardware Contest, we challenged you to take your project photography to the next level. Rather than being an afterthought, this time the pictures would take center stage. Ranging from creative images of personal projects to new ways of looking at existing pieces of hardware, the 100+ entries we received for this contest proved that there’s more beauty in a hacker’s parts bin than most of them probably realize.

As always, it was a struggle to narrow down all the fantastic entries to just a handful of winners. But without further adieu, let’s take a look at the photos that we think truly blurred the line between workbench and work of art:

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This WiFi Spoofing Syringe Is For External Use Only

A browse through his collected works will tell you that [El Kentaro] loves to build electronics into interesting enclosures, so when he realized there’s enough room inside a 150 ml plastic syringe to mount an ESP8266, a battery, and a copious amount of RGB LEDs, the “Packet Injector” was the inescapable result.

Granted, the current incarnation of this device doesn’t literally inject packets. But [El Kentaro] wasn’t actually looking to do anything malicious, either. The Injector is intended to be a fun gag for him to bring along to the various hacker cons he finds himself at, like his DEAUTH “bling” necklace we saw at DEF CON 26, so having any practical function is really more icing on the cake than a strict requirement.

In the end, the code he came up with for the Adafruit Feather HUZZAH that uses the FakeBeaconESP8266 library to push out fictitious networks on demand. This is a trick we’ve seen used in the past, and makes for a relatively harmless prank as long as you’re not pumping out any particularly unpleasant SSIDs. In this case, [El Kentaro] punctuates his technicolor resplendency with beacons pronouncing “The WiFi Doctor is Here.”

But the real hack here is how [El Kentaro] controls the device. Everything is contained within the syringe chamber, and he uses a MPL3115A2 I2C barometric pressure sensor to detect when it’s being compressed. If the sensor reads a pressure high enough over the established baseline, the NeoPixel Ring fires up and the fake beacon frames start going out. Ease up on the plunger, and the code detects the drop in pressure and turns everything back off.

If this build has piqued your interest, [El Kentaro] gave a fascinating talk about his hardware design philosophy during the WOPR Summit that included how he designed and built some of his “greatest hits”; including a Raspberry Pi Zero enclosure that was, regrettably, not limited to external use.

Custom Bases Make LEGO Spacecraft Even Cooler

If you’re reading Hackaday, we’re willing to bet that you either own the LEGO Saturn V and Lunar Module models, or at the very least know somebody who does. Even if you thought you’d finally outgrown playing with little plastic bricks (a critical mistake, but one we’ll ignore for now), these two kits just have an undeniable appeal to them. You might never get a chance to work for NASA, but you can at least point to the Saturn V rocket hanging on your wall and say you built it yourself.

[Ben Brooks] thought these fantastic models deserved equally impressive stands, so he built “exhaust plumes” that both craft could proudly perch on. With the addition of some RGB LEDs and a Particle Photon to drive them, he added incredible lighting effects that really bring the display to life. There are also sound effects provided by an Adafruit Audio FX board, and for the Lander, an LCD display that mimics the Apollo Guidance Computer DSKY that astronauts used to safely navigate to the Moon and back.

In his write-up on Hackaday.io, [Ben] makes it clear that he was inspired by previous projects that added an illuminated column of smoke under the LEGO Saturn V, but we think his additions are more than worthy of praise. Playing real audio from the Apollo missions that’s synchronized to the light show honestly makes for a better display than we’ve seen in some museums, and he even rigged up a wireless link so that his neighbor’s kids can trigger a “launch” that they can watch from their window.

For the Lunar Module, he 3D printed an enclosure for the Photon and Adafruit quad alphanumeric display that stands in for the DSKY. There’s even lighted indicators for the 1201/1202 program alarms that popped up as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface 50 years ago.

While many of us aren’t old enough to have our own first hand memories of the Moon landing, projects like this prove that the incredible accomplishments of the Apollo program never fail to inspire. Who knows? Those kids that are watching [Ben]’s Saturn V from next door might one day get to make the trip themselves.

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New Part Day: Two Millimeter Addressable LEDs

The WS2812, or “Neopixels”, or whatever you want to call them, are the standard when it comes to adding blinky to anything. These chips are individually addressable RGB LEDs, which you’ve seen in many LED strips and a thousand other products. These LEDs are rather big compared to normal, dumb LEDs, measuring 5 mm on each side. Here are WS2812s packed into a 2 mm x 2 mm square package. It’s the smallest and brightest blinky that works the same as the WS2812s you know and love.

This is the latest product from Worldsemi. We’ve heard of these before, but damned if we could find a supplier or even a price. Now they’re on AliExpress, at a price of $8 USD per 100, shipping not included.

Electrically, these appear to have the same properties of the normal, 5050-size WS2812 LEDs. Apply power and ground to two pins, send data in on one pin, and connect the next LED in the strand to the remaining pin. Yes, it requires a bit of work to turn this into a display, but microcontrollers are very fast now and have plenty of RAM. Attach a BeagleBone and you’ll be able to drive as many as your glowing heart desires.

If you’re wondering what the coolest project imaginable for these LEDs is, here’s the math: the largest (common) PCB panel for your random board house is 16 by 22 inches. Assuming a 3 mm pixel pitch, that means the largest PCB display you can make with these LEDs is 135 by 186 pixels, call it 120 by 180 just to make things easy. That’s 21,600 LEDs, at a cost of about $2,000. I would not recommend reflowing these, and assuming soldering a LED every thirty seconds, it will take about a month to solder them all by hand. There’s your project, now get to it.

IKEA Cloud Lamp Displays The Weather With An ESP8266

The IKEA DRÖMSYN is a wall mounted cloud night light that’s perfect for a kid’s room. For $10 USD, it’s just begging for somebody to cram some electronics in there and make it do something cool. Luckily for us, [Jodgson] decided to take on the challenge and turned this once simple lamp into a clever weather display. It even still works as an LED lamp, if you’re into that sort of thing.

After stripping out the original hardware, [Jodgson] installed a Wemos D1 Mini and a string of fourteen SK6812 RGB LEDs that run down the length of the cloud’s internal structure. Weather data is pulled down with the OpenWeatherMap API, and conditions are displayed through various lighting colors and effects.

Sunny days are represented with a nice yellow glow, and a cloudy forecast looks like…well it’s already a white cloud so that one’s pretty easy. If rain is expected the cloud turns blue and the bottom LEDs flicker a bit to represent raindrops. When there’s a thunderstorm, the cloud will intermittently flash random LEDs on the strip a bit brighter than their peers; a really slick effect that gets the point across immediately.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody take a cheap light from IKEA and turn it into something much more impressive with the ESP8266. Just like with that previous project, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this particular modification popping up more in the future.