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, [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.

Keep The Kids Entertained With A Time Machine

We often hear it said that today’s kids don’t go out and play as much as they did in the past, but honestly, it’s hard to really blame them. Have you seen some of the games they have now? It’s going to take something a little more exciting than a game of stickball to get them off the couch when they’ve got 4K and VR game systems to play with.

Circuit to control ATX PSU

Which is exactly why [Bobek] is building his kids a time machine. Not a literal one, of course. The Flux Capacitor technology required has yet to be mastered. But it does allow the player to “travel” through time through videos which are played by punching in specific codes they have to unlock by solving puzzles in the real world. Then again, keeping keeping kids active and mentally engaged might as well be “going back in time” in some people’s eyes.

By the looks of things, [Bobek] still has a little work to do on the project, but it’s far enough along that we can get an idea. Inside the bottom of the heavy duty plastic case he’s installed an ATX power supply and a Raspberry Pi 3, and an top of that, there’s a metal plate that holds the power button, an RGB backlit keyboard, and a Vacuum Florescent Display.

After powering on the system, the kids punch in the codes they’ve earned on the keyboard. If accepted, it starts the corresponding presentation which goes over the sights and sounds of the time period they’ve unlocked. In the video after the break you can see [Bobek] test the device with a small display hanging off the end of an HDMI cable, but presumably the system will eventually get an integrated display. The kids could also plug it into the TV, but at that point you might be going full circle.

We’ve seen several examples of hackers creating their own electronic gadgets to keep their children entertained. The line might be a little blurry, but we’d rather see kids use their imagination to “fly” a spaceship in their bedroom than play Roblox on their phone.

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A Customizable Open Source Mechanical Numpad

Mechanical keyboards with reduced key counts are all the rage these days, but while those streamlined input devices might look cool on your desk, there are times when the traditional number pad or navigation keys are quite handy. Rather than just going without, [Mattia Dal Ben] decided to put together his own mechanical auxiliary input device for when the main board just isn’t cutting it.

[Mattia] is calling his creation the YamPAD, which stands for Yet Another Mechanical numPAD. One of the major goals for the project is to produce a design that’s easy for others to replicate and customize. His PCB has a socket designed to fit an Arduino Pro Micro, which combined with the QMK firmware, offers a wide array of configuration options. All that’s left is to add in the Cherry MX switches and some 1N4148 diodes.

But if you want to take things a little further, [Mattia] has that covered as well. The PCB design has provisions for RGB LED back-lighting should you find yourself in need of crunching some numbers in the dark. There’s even a spot for a 0.91″ OLED display if you really want to take things to the next level.

As of right now, the YamPAD is just a bare PCB, but [Mattia] is planning to design a 3D printed enclosure for it soon. The sketches he’s done so far depict a printed case which we think bears more than a passing resemblance to a Wii Fit Balance Board, but of course being a fully open source project, you’ll be free to design your own case based on the PCB’s dimensions. It would be interesting to see what other kind of customization the community might come up with once the design is finalized.

If you like the idea of the YamPAD, you might also want to check out the kbord we covered back in 2017. If you want to see the full keyboard done in this DIY open hardware style, there are already some choice entries into the field.

Getting That Neon Sign Look Without All The Hassle

We all love the look of neon signage, but the between the glassblowing equipment, gas cylinders, high voltage, and the associated skill set, it’s not practical for everyone. Luckily, these days there’s a good alternative: “neon” flexible LED strips. This is the approach [Benni] recently took in making a large logo display, and the results speak for themselves.

[Benni] sourced the strips from AliExpress. They’re 8 mm wide and can be cut to length in multiples of 4.2 cm. Inside, there are strips of RGB LEDs, making the displays that much more versatile than actual neon. Covering the LEDs is a silicone diffuser strip that completes the illusion of a neon tube. The flexibility of the strips make them easy to bend into different shapes, but also mean a solid substrate of some sort is required to make them hold their shape. In [Benni]’s case, he used a metal frame to which he glued the strips with cyanoacrylate adhesive. He used zip ties to clamp the strips in place while the glue cured, and the fact that he clipped the tails of the zip ties is a testament to his detail-oriented nature; we would probably have left them on. All of the attention payed off though because the end product looks awesome. The finishing touches are supplied by some 3D-printed bezels carrying acrylic diffuser panels and traditional LED strips for the eyes, plus a DMX LED controller.

We’ve seen [Benni]’s work before, like this slick USB rotary encoder peripheral, and like that time, there’s a video which really shows off the project. Have a look, after the jump.

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A Chrome Extension For Configuring RGB LEDs

Like pretty much all of us, [Andy Schwarz] loves RGB LEDs. Specifically he likes to put them on RC vehicles, such as navigation lights on airplanes or flashers and headlights on cars. He found himself often rewriting very similar Arduino code for each one of these installations, and eventually decided he could save himself (and all the other hackers in the world) some time by creating a customizable Arduino firmware specifically for driving RGB LEDs.

The software side of this project, which he’s calling BitsyLED, actually comes in two parts. The first is the firmware itself, which is designed to control common RGB LEDs such as the WS2812 or members of the NeoPixel family. It can run on an Arduino Pro Mini with no problems, but [Andy] has also designed his own open hardware control board based on the ATtiny84 that you can build yourself. Currently you need a USBASP to program it, but he’s working on a second version which will add USB support.

With your controller of choice running the BitsyLED firmware, you need something to configure it. For that, [Andy] has developed a Chrome extension which offers a very slick user interface for setting up colors and patterns. The tool even allows you to create a visual representation of your LEDs so you can get an idea of what it’s going to look like when all the hardware is powered up.

RGB LEDs such as the WS2812 are some of the most common components we see in projects today, mainly because they’re so easy to physically interface with a microcontroller. But even though it only takes a couple of wires to control a large number of LEDs, you still need to write the code for it all. BitsyLED takes a lot of the hassle out of that last part, and we’re very interested to see what the hacker community makes of it.

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