Big RGB LED Cube You Can Build Too

LED cubes are really nothing new, many of us consider the building of a good sized one almost an electronics rite of passage that not so many manage to find the time or have the skill to pull off. It’s our pleasure to draw your attention to a lovely build, showing all the processes involved, the problems and the solutions found along the way.

Building a small cube is somewhat of a trivial affair, especially without considering PWM colour mixing, however as simple maths will illustrate, as you increase the number of LEDs on each side, the total number will quickly get quite large. More LEDs need more power and increase control complexity considerably. A larger matrix like this 16 x 16 x 16 LED build, has a total of 4096. This would be a nightmare to drive with plain RGB LEDs, even with cunning multiplexing, but luckily you can buy indexable LEDs in a through-hole package similar to the ubiquitous WS2812-based SMT LEDs you see around. These are based on the PD9823 controller, which can be programmed as if they were a WS2812, at least according to this analysis. Now you can simply chain a column of LEDs, with the control signal passed from LED to nearest neighbour.

Early on in the video build log, you will note there are four power supply modules needed to feed this juice. If we assume each LED consumes 60 mA on full-white (the data for this product link shows a peak value of 100 mA) that is still a total of 246 A or around 1 kW of power. The video does shows a peak power measurement of around this figure, for the whole array on full white, so the maths seems about right.

Control is via a Teensy 4.0 using the FlexIO function of the IMXRT1060RM CPU, and a bunch of 74AHCT595 shift registers giving 32 channels of up to 1000 LEDs per channel if needed. Roughly speaking, using the DMA with FlexIO, the Teensy can drive up to 1 Million LED updates per second, which works out about 32 channels of 100 LEDs per channel updated at 330 frames/sec, so plenty of resource is available. All this is with almost no CPU intervention, freeing that up for handling the 2.4-inch LCD based UI and running the animations, which looks pretty darn slick if you ask us. You can checkout the description of the firmware in the firmware section of the GitHub project. 3D printed jigs allowed for bending and clipping the LEDs leads as well as fixing and aligning the LED column units, so there really is enough detail there to allow anyone so inclined reproduce this, so long as you can swallow the cost of all those LEDs.

For a different approach to LED cubes, checkout this sweet panel based approach, and here’s a really small 4x4x4 module for those with less space to spare.

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Foam F-35 Learns To Hover

With cheap RC hardware, powerful motors, and high-capacity battery packs, getting something to fly has never been easier. It also helps that, whether you’re into fixed-wing craft or multirotors, there’s plenty of information and prior art floating around online that you can use to jumpstart your own build. But when it comes to homebrew vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) planes, things are a bit trickier.

Luckily for us, [Nicholas Rehm] has made all the plans and information necessary to duplicate his incredible RC F-35 available for anyone who wants to experiment with these relatively niche fliers. Even if it was a standard park flier, the build would be worth a close look thanks to the vectored thrust motors that give it phenomenal maneuverability and a top speed in the neighboorhood of 120 KPH (80 MPH). But with the flick of a switch, the plane transitions into a tricopter-like flight mode that allows it to land and takeoff vertically.

How does it work? The downward facing motor just behind the “cockpit” lifts up the front of the foam flier and tilts left and right to provide yaw control, while the two motors on the back tilt down to lift up the rear of the aircraft. Aviation buffs in the audience may recognize this as being fairly close to how the actual F-35B hovers, although on the real jet fighter, downward thrust under the wings is generated by redirected turbine exhaust rather than dedicated motors, and yaw control is provided by swiveling the engine’s nozzle rather than the front lift fan.

Getting the plane to takeoff vertically was one thing, but being able to transition from a hover into forward flight was quite another. To make this aerial transformation possible [Nicholas] actually had to write his own flight controller software, which he calls dRehmFlight. The GPLv3 code runs on the Teensy 4.0 and uses the common GY-521 MPU6050 gyroscope/accelerometer, so you don’t need to get any custom boards spun up just to give it a test drive flight. In the video below he walks through configuring the software for VTOL operation by defining how each control surface and motor is to respond to control input given the currently selected flight mode.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that this isn’t the first time [Nicholas] has experimented with unusual flying machines. Last year we covered his RC Starship, which managed to stick the “belly flop” landing even before SpaceX managed to get the real life version down in one piece.

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MIT’s Knitted Keyboard Is Quite A Flexible MIDI Controller

There are only so many ways to make noise on standard instruments such as acoustic pianos. Their rigidity and inputs just don’t allow for a super-wide range of expression. On the other hand, if you knit your interface together, the possibilities are nearly endless. MIT’s new and improved knitted keyboard is an instrument like none other — it responds to touch, pressure, and continuous proximity, meaning that you can play it like a keyboard, a theremin, and something that is somewhere in between the two. Because it’s a MIDI interface, it can ultimately sound like any instrument you’ve got available in software.

The silver keys of this five-octave interface are made of conductive yarn, and the blue background is regular polyester yarn. Underneath that is a conductive knit layer to complete the key circuits, and a piezo-resistive knit layer that responds to pressure and stretch. It runs on a Teensy 4.0 and uses five MPR121 proximity/touch controllers, one per octave.

The really exciting thing about this keyboard is its musical (and physical) versatility. As you might expect, the keyboard takes discrete inputs from keystrokes, but it also takes continuous input from hovering and waving via the proximity sensors, and goes even further by taking physical input from squeezing, pulling, stretching, and twisting the conductive yarns that make up the keys. This means it takes aftertouch (pressure applied after initial contact) into account —  something that isn’t possible with most regular instruments. And since this keyboard is mostly yarn and fabric, you can roll it up and take it anywhere, or wrap it around your neck for a varied soundscape.

If you’re looking for more detail, check out the paper for the previous version (PDF), which also used thermochromic yarn to show different colors for various modes of play using a heating element. With the new version, [Irmandy Wicaksono] and team sought to improve the sensing modalities, knitted aesthetics, and the overall tactility of the keyboard. We love both versions! Be sure to check it out after the break.

Want to play around with capacitive touch sensors without leaving the house for parts? Make your own from paper and aluminum foil.

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DRehmFlight: Customizable Flight Stabilisation For Your Weird Flying Contraptions

The availability of cheap and powerful RC motors and electronics has made it possible for almost anyone to build an RC flying machine. Software is usually the bigger challenge, which has led to the development of open-source packages like BetaFlight and Ardupilot. These packages are very powerful, but not easy to modify if you have unconventional requirements. [Nicholas Rehm] faced this challenge while doing his master’s degree, so he created dRehmFlight, a customizable flight controller for VTOL aircraft. Overview video after the break.

dRehmFlight runs on Teensy 4.0 with a MPU6050 or MPU9250 IMU

[Nicholas] has been building unique VTOL aircraft for close to a decade, and he specifically wanted flight stabilization software that is easy to modify and experiment with. Looking at the dRehmFlight code, we think he was successful. The main flight controller package is a single file of fewer than 1600 lines. It’s well commented and easy to figure out, even for an inexperienced programmer. A detailed PDF manual is also available, with full descriptions for all the functions and important variables, and a couple of tutorials to get you started. Libraries for interfacing with accelerometers and RC gear is also included. It runs on a 600 Mhz Teensy 4.0, and all the programming can be done from the Arduino IDE.

[Nicholas] has repeatedly demonstrated the capabilities of dRehmFlight with several unique aircraft, like the belly flopping RC Starship we covered a while ago, a VTOL quad rotor biplane, VTOL F35, and the cyclocopter seen in the header image. dRehmFlight might not have the racing drone performance of BetaFlight, or advanced autopilot features of Ardupilot, but it’s perfect for getting unconventional aircraft off the ground. Continue reading “DRehmFlight: Customizable Flight Stabilisation For Your Weird Flying Contraptions”

This Tabletop Lighthouse Will Get Your Attention

If you wear headphones around the house with any regularity, you’re probably missing out on a lot of audio cues like knocks at the door, people calling your name, or maybe even the smoke alarm. What if you had a visual indicator of sound that was smart enough to point it out for you?

That is the point of [Jake Ammons’] attention-getting lighthouse, designed and built in two weeks’ time for Architectural Robotics class. It detects ambient noise and responds to it by focusing light in the direction of the sound and changing the color of the light to a significant shade to indicate different events. Up inside the lighthouse is a Teensy 4.0 to read in the sound and spin a motor in response.

[Jake]’s original directive was to make something sound-reactive, and then to turn it into an assistive device. In the future [Jake] would like to add more microphones to do sound localization. We love how sleek and professional this looks — just goes to show you what the right t-shirt stretched over 3D prints can do. Check out the demo after the break.

Seaside lighthouses once used gas lights giant Fresnel lenses, but now they use LEDs. A company in Florida is using CNC machines to crank out acrylic Fresnels.

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New Teensy 4.1 Arrives With 100 Mbps Ethernet, High-Speed USB, 8 MB Flash

It was only last August that PJRC released Teensy 4.0. At that time, the 4.0 became the fastest microcontroller development board on the planet, a title it still holds as of this writing — or, well, not exactly. Today the Teensy 4.1 has been released, and using the same 600 MHz ARM Cortex M7 under the hood, is now also the fastest microcontroller board. What the 4.1 brings to the table is more peripherals, memory, and GPIOs. While Teensy 4.0 used the same small form factor as the 3.2, Teensy 4.1 uses the larger board size of the 3.5/3.6 to expose the extra goodies.

The now slightly older Teensy 4.0 — released on August 7th of last year — is priced at $19.95, with the new 4.1 version offered at $26.85. It seems that the 4.1 isn’t intended as a replacement for the 4.0, as they serve different segments of the market. If you’re looking for an ultra-fast affordable microcontroller board that lives up to its Teensy name, the 4.0 fits the bill. On the other hand, if you need the additional peripherals broken out and can afford the space of the larger board, the not-as-teensy-sized 4.1 is for you. How big is it? The sample board I measured was 61 x 18 mm (2.4 x 0. 7″), not counting the small protrusion of the micro-usb jack on one end.

Let’s have a look at all the fun stuff PJRC was able to pack into this space. Continue reading “New Teensy 4.1 Arrives With 100 Mbps Ethernet, High-Speed USB, 8 MB Flash”

How Many LEDs Can You Drive?

Driving more than a handful of LEDs from a microcontroller is often a feat that takes tedious wiring, tricking the processor, or a lot of extra external hardware. Charlieplexing is perhaps the most notorious of these methods, and checks two of those three boxes. This library for the Teensy 4.0 checks all three, but it can also drive a truly staggering 32,000 LEDs at one time.

The TriantaduoWS2811 library is able to drive 32 channels of LEDs from a Teensy 4.0 using only three pins and minimal processor resources. It uses the FlexIO and DMA subsystems of the i.MX RT1062, the particular ARM processor on the Teensy, to drive four external shift registers. Together, the system is able to achieve 30 frames per second on with 1,000 LEDs per channel, for a total of 32,000 LEDs. Whoah.

[Ward] aka [wramsdell] wondered what one would do with all of the horsepower of a Teensy microcontroller when he first saw its specifications, and was able to build this project to take advantage of its features. What’s surprising, though, is that it doesn’t use nearly everything the processor is capable of, so you can do other tasks at the same time as driving that giant LED display.