Not Happy With Smart Bulbs? Make Your Own

The idea of the so-called “smart bulb” sounds good; who wouldn’t want to be able to verify the porch light is on if you’re out of town for the night, or check to see if you left the bathroom lights on in your rush out the door in the morning? But in practice, it can be a nightmare. Each brand wants to push their own protocol. Even worse, it seems you can’t get anything done without signing up for three different services, each with its own application that needs to be installed on your phone. It’s a frustrating and often expensive mire to find yourself in.

[Dom Gregori] liked the Hue bulbs offered by Philips, but didn’t want to buy into the whole ecosystem of phone apps and hardware hubs they require. So he decided to create his own open source version that would do everything he wanted, without any of the seemingly unavoidable baggage of the commercial offerings. The final result is a professional looking ESP8266 controlled RGB bulb that hooks into Home Assistant via MQTT.

Looking at his Bill of Materials, it’s actually pretty amazing to see how little it really takes to pull a project like this off. Outside of the Wemos D1 Mini board, [Dom] just needed a few concentric WS2812 rings, and a USB charger small enough to fit into the base of his 3D printed enclosure.

We especially like how he handled the socket-side of the bulb, as that’s the part that would have left us scratching our heads. Rather than trying to salvage the base from an existing bulb, or come up with his own printed piece to stick in the socket, he just used a cheap and readily available light socket adapter. The solution might be a little bulky, but we like how he’s deftly avoided having to handle any AC voltages in this project.

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen more and more smart bulb related content come our way. From the ever popular teardown of a new entry into the market to the sobering realization that your light bulbs might provide the key attackers need to access your network, it’s been fascinating to see the transformation of these once simple pieces of hardware into something far more complex.

Lots Of Blinky! ESP32 Drives 20,000 WS2812 LEDs

20,000 LEDs sounds like an amazing amount of blink. When we start to consider the process of putting together 20,000 of anything, and then controlling them all with a small piece of electronics the size of a postage stamp, we get a little bit dizzy. Continue reading “Lots Of Blinky! ESP32 Drives 20,000 WS2812 LEDs”

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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A Word Clock, The Hard Way

We’ve all seen word clocks, and they’re great, but there are only so many ways to show the time in words. This word clock with 114 servos is the hard way to do it.

We’re not sure what [Moritz v. Sivers] was aiming for with this projection clock, but he certainly got it right. The basic idea is to project the characters needed to compose the time messages onto a translucent PVC screen, which could certainly have been accomplished with just a simple character mask and some LEDs. But for extra effect, [Moritz] mounted each character to a letterbox mounted over a Neopixel. The letterboxes are attached to a rack and pinion driven by a micro servo. The closer they get to the screen, the sharper the focus and the smaller the size of the character. Add in a little color changing and the time appears to float out from a jumbled, unfocused background. It’s quite eye-catching, and worth the 200+ hours of printing time it took to make all the parts. Complete build instructions are available, and a demo video is after the break.

We like pretty much any word clock – big, small, or even widescreen. This one really pushes all our buttons, though.

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Can You Live Without The WS2812?

As near as we can tell, the popular WS2812 individually addressable RGB LED was released to the world sometime around the last half of 2013. This wasn’t long ago, or maybe it was an eternity; the ESP8266, the WiFi microcontroller we all know and love was only released a year or so later. If you call these things “Neopixels”, there’s a good reason: Adafruit introduced the WS28212 to the maker community, with no small effort expended on software support, and branding.

The WS2812 is produced by WorldSemi, who made a name for themselves earlier with LED driver solutions, especially the WS2811, an SOIC chip that would turn a common anode RGB LED into one that’s serially controllable. When they stuffed the brains from the WS2811 into a small package with a few LEDs, they created what is probably the most common programmable LED lighting solution available today.

A lot has changed in the six years that the WS2812 has been on the market. The computer modding scene hasn’t heard the words ‘cold cathode’ in years. Christmas lights are much cooler, and anyone who wants to add blinky to their bling has an easy way to do that.

But in the years since the WS2812 came on the market, there are a lot of follow-up products that do the same thing better. You now have serially addressable LEDs that won’t bring down the rest of the string when they fail. You have RGBW LEDs. There are LEDs with a wider color gamut and more. This is a look at the current state of serially addressable RGB LEDs, and what the future might have in store.

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Painting With Light And A Little G-Code

Most photographs are made in the fraction of a second that the camera’s shutter is gathering reflected light from the scene. But there’s fun to be had by leaving the shutter open and directing light into the camera. Called light painting, it can be as simple as a camera on a tripod in a dark room and a penlight spelling out dirty words – not like we’d know – or as complicated as this CNC dot-matrix light printer.

The first idea that [Jeremy S. Cook] had for this build didn’t go so well. He fitted an LED to the gantry of his 3D-printer, intending to send it G-code representing bitmaps. The idea would be to set it up in a dark place, open the shutter, and let the machine build up the image by rastering through the X- and Y- axes while blinking the LED on and off at the right time. But since the gantry only moves in one axis, he abandoned the printer in favor of his CNC router. He printed a collar to fit the dust collector shroud we previously featured, added a battery-powered LED, and affixed a pushbutton switch to the let the Z-axis turn on the light. It took some tweaking such as adding a translucent PLA diffuser, to get decent images, but in the end it worked. We like the soft look of the floating voxels, which were really helped by the later addition of a Nano and a Neopixel. Check out the build in the video below.

One thing we’d suggest is better reflection control. [Jeremy] used a black platen as a background, but it wasn’t quite enough. We suggest going none more black next time.

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RGB Word Clock Doesn’t Skimp On The Features

Like most pieces of technology, word clocks seem to be getting better and better every year. As hackers get their hands on better microcontrollers and more capable LED controllers, these builds not only look more polished, but get improved features and functions. Luckily for us, the rise of these advanced modular components means they’re getting easier to build too. For an example of these parallel traits, look no further than VERBIS by [Andrei Erdei].

This colorful word clock is powered by an ESP8266, a 8×8 RGB LED matrix, and a WS2812 RGB LED controller module. [Andrei] used the diminutive ESP-01 which can plug right into the LED controller, and just needs a 3.3 VDC regulator board to complete the very compact electronics package.

To keep the LEDs from interfering with each other, [Andrei] has designed a 3D printed grid which fits over the matrix board. On top of that goes a piece of paper that has the letters printed on it. He mentions that he was able to get good results printing this “stencil” out on an inkjet printer by simply running the same piece of paper through a few times; picking up more black ink each time it went through. Judging by the sharp characters seen in the video after the break, the trick worked well.

With his hardware put together, [Andrei] turned his attention to the software. We really think the project shines here, as his clock not only supports NTP for automatically setting the time over the Internet, but offers a full web interface to control various functions such as the LED colors. You can even change the NTP server and network configuration right from the UI, which is a nice touch compared to just hard coding the values into the code. Even if you don’t use the same hardware, the open source control software is definitely something you should look into if you’re building your own word clock.

We recently covered another easy to build word clock that used an LED matrix and not a whole lot else, but it was quite tiny. This build is a much more reasonable size for a desk, but you’ll probably need to break out the laser cutter if you want to get much bigger.

Continue reading “RGB Word Clock Doesn’t Skimp On The Features”