Mc Lighting Takes the Pain out of Blinking

If you want to blink a ton of WS2812-alike LED pixels over WiFi, the hardware side of things is easy enough: an LED strip, and ESP8266 unit, and a beefy enough power supply to feed them. But the software side — that’s where it can be a bit of a pain.

Enter Mc Lighting. It makes the software side of things idiot-proof. Flash the firmware onto the ESP8266, and you’ve got your choice of REST, WebSockets, or MQTT to get the data in. This means that it’ll work with Homekit, NodeRed, or an ESP-hosted web interface that you can pull up from any smartphone.

The web interface is particularly swell, and has a bunch of animations built in. (Check out the video below.) This means that you can solder some wires, flash an ESP, and your least computer-savvy relatives can be controlling the system in no time. And speaking of videos, Mc Lighting’s author [Tobias] has compiled a playlist of projects that use the library, also just below. The docs on GitHub are great, and also check out the wiki.

So what are you waiting for? Do you or your loved ones need some blink in your life? And while you’re ordering LED strips, get two. You’re going to want to build TWANG! as well.

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Handheld Arduino Light Painter

Light painting is a technique which allows you to “draw” on a photograph by moving a light past the camera during a long exposure shot. While it can be difficult to master, light painting allows for some incredible effects such as text and images that appear to be hovering in mid-air. Think of it like a very slow but much cooler version of an augmented reality app.

[Reven] recently wrote in to tell us about the Arduino light painter he put together, and while DIY (and even commercial) light painting gear isn’t exactly new at this point, we think he’s raised the bar a bit with his design. With the addition of a slick 3D printed enclosure and on-board display and menu system, his light painter looks exceptionally professional for being built out of hardware he had on hand.

On his blog, [Reven] has done a phenomenal job of documenting the build from start to finish. Not only does he include a detailed Bill of Materials and the STL files so you can build your own version of his light painter, he walks the reader though his design process and explains why he did the things he did. Even if you aren’t interested in building a light painter, there’s almost certainly something of interest for anyone who’s ever looked at a pile of parts on their workbench and wondered how they were going to turn it into a functioning device.

Powered by an Arduino Uno, the light painter provides a user interface on a 16×2 LCD which allows control over not only the brightness of the WS2812 LED strips but selecting and loading different images from the micro SD card. The case was designed in FreeCAD, and while [Reven] mentions there are a number of issues which could be improved, satisfies all his design goals.

We covered the original Adafruit project that [Reven] based his code all the way back in 2013, though there’s certainly been more modern interpretations of the idea since then.

A Gif-Playing Top Hat For FRC 2018!

In gearing up to mentor a team at the 2018 FIRST Robotics Competition, redditor [dd0626] wanted to do something cool that resonated with this year’s 8-bit gaming theme. Over the course of a few days, they transformed a top hat into a thematically encapsulating marquee: a LED matrix display loaded with gifs!

The display is actually a sleeve — made from shipping foam, a pillow case, and an old t-shirt — that fits over the hat, leaving it intact and wearable for future events. A Teensy3.6 displays the gifs on four WS2812 16×16 RGB LED matrices, and while a sheer black fabric diffuses the light, it’s still best viewed from several feet away. This is decidedly not intended to be a stealthy hat display.

To mitigate current draw, [dd0626] is using a 5V 30A DC/DC converter and keeping the brightness at a minimum — otherwise, each panel can pull up to 15A! To offset any dip in performance, they’ve bundled in a massive 22,400mAh, 24V battery pack to keep the hat running for a while. Despite all the hardware, the hat weighs under two pounds — eminently wearable for a long day of competition. Continue reading “A Gif-Playing Top Hat For FRC 2018!”

The Engineering Case for Fusing Your LED Strips

Modern LED strips are magical things. The WS2812 has allowed the quick and easy creation of addressable RGB installations, revolutionizing the science of cool glowy things. However, this accessibility means that it’s easy to get in over your head and make some simple mistakes that could end catastrophically. [Thomas] is here to help, outlining a common mistake made when building with LED strips that is really rather dangerous.

The problem is the combination of hardware typically used to run these LED strings. They’re quite bright and draw significant amounts of power, each pixel drawing up to 60 mA at full-white. In a string of just 10 pixels, the strip is already drawing 600 mA. For this reason, it’s common for people to choose quite hefty power supplies that can readily deliver several amps to run these installations.

It’s here that the problem starts. Typically, wires used to hook up the LED strips are quite thin and the flex strips themselves have a significant resistance, too. This means it’s possible to short circuit an LED strip without actually tripping the overcurrent protection on something like an ATX power supply, which may be fused at well over 10 amps. With the resistance of the wires and strip acting as a current limiter, the strip can overheat to the point of catching fire while the power supply happily continues to pump in the juice. In a home workshop under careful supervision, this may be a manageable risk. In an unattended installation, things could be far worse.

Thankfully, the solution is simple. By installing an appropriately rated fuse for the number of LEDs in the circuit, the installation becomes safer, as the fuse will burn out under a short circuit condition even if the power supply is happy to supply the current. With the example of 10 LEDs drawing 600 mA, a 1 amp fuse would do just fine to protect the circuit in the event of an accidental short.

It’s a great explanation of a common yet dangerous problem, and [Thomas] backs it up by using a thermal camera to illustrate just how hot things can get in mere seconds. Armed with this knowledge, you can now safely play with LEDs instead of fire. But now that you’re feeling confident, why not check out these eyeball-searing 3 watt addressable LEDs?

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Pi Weather Lamp Puts Lava Lamps To Shame

Representing the weather on an LED lamp in a manner that’s easy to interpret can be difficult, but [Gosse Adema]’s weather/matrix lamp makes it not only obvious what the weather is but also offers a very attractive display. For rain, drops of light move downward, and for wind, sideways. The temperature is shown using a range of colors from red to blue, and since he is situated in the Netherlands he needed snow, which he shows as white. A rainy, windy day has lights moving both down and sideways with temperature information as the background.

Weather matrix lamp

To implement it he mounted LED strips inside a 3D printed cylinder with reflectors for each LED, all of which fitted into a glass cylinder taken from another lamp purchased online. The brains of it is a Raspberry Pi Zero W housed in the bottom along with a fan. Both the LEDs and the fan are controlled by the Pi. He took a lot of care with power management, first calculating the current that the LEDs would draw, and then writing Python code to limit that draw. However upon measurement, the current draw was much lower than expected and so he resized the power supply appropriately. He also took care to correctly size the wires and properly distribute the power with a specially made power distribution board. Overall, we really like the thorough job he’s done.

But then again, what’s not to like about [Gosse]’s projects. In the area of lighting, he’s dazzled us with WiFi controlled Christmas tree ornaments, but he’s also delighted us with a Prusa i3 based LEGO 3D printer on which he printed LEGO parts and then made a special extruder for printing chocolate.

Modern Strongman Games Test Your Speed Instead

Step right up! What would a Makerfaire be without some carnival games? And being a Makerfaire, they could of course be modernized versions. In [avishorp]’s case, he made a series of games that test your speed and look very much like the old strongman game, aka high striker or strength tester.

In the strongman game, you smash a lever with all your might using a hammer. A puck on the other end of the lever then shoots up a tower, hopefully high enough to hit a bell, winning you a prize. In [avishorp]’s games the puck, tower and bell are all replaced with an LED strip. In the swipe game, the faster you swipe your hand sideways over two optical proximity sensors, the higher the LEDs light up. In the drum game, the speed with which you drum on a rubber disk with embedded accelerometer, the higher the LEDs light up. The chase and response games both involve buttons that you have to rapidly hit, to similar effect.

For the brains, each game is controlled by an Adafruit Trinket board. [Avishorp] chose to use the PlatformIO IDE instead of the Arduino IDE to write them, preferring its modern editor, but he didn’t like that it doesn’t print and that it doesn’t tell you the final file size. The latter issue caused him to overwrite the bootloader, something that he understandably considered a major inconvenience.

Check out his page for more details, Fritzing diagrams, links to code, and all game videos. Meanwhile we’ve included clips of the drum and swipe games below.

And if it’s more carnival games you’re looking for, how about this adult-sized Sit ‘n Spin made using a rear differential and axle assembly out of an old car or truck. Or maybe you prefer something less likely to make you woozy, in which case you can try fishing with the Bass Master 3000.

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A Smart Table For Gamers

When makers take to designing furniture for their own home, the results are spectacular. For their senior design project, [Phillip Murphy] and his teammates set about building a smart table from the ground up. Oh, and you can also use it to play games, demonstrated in the video below.

The table uses 512 WS2812 pixels in a 32 x 16 array which has enough resolution to play a selection of integrated games — Go, 2-player Tetris, and Tron light cycle combat — as well as some other features like a dancing bird party mode — because what’s the point of having a smart table if it can’t also double as rave lighting?

A C2000-family microcontroller on a custom board is the brains, and is controlled by an Android app via Bluetooth RN-42 modules. The table frame was designed in Sketchup, laser-cut, and painstakingly stained. [Murphy] and company used aluminum ducting tape in each of the ‘pixels’, and the table’s frame actually forms the pixel grid. Check out the overview and some of the games in action after the break.

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