Neopixels Recreate Pinball Color Wheel That Never Was

With what pinball aficionados pay for the machines they so lovingly restore, it’s hard to imagine that these devices were once built to a price point. They had to make money, and whatever it took to attract attention and separate the customer from their hard-earned coins was usually included in the design. But only up to a point.

Take the 1967 Williams classic, “Magic City.” As pinball collector [Mark Gibson] explains it, the original design called for a rotating color filter behind a fountain motif in the back-glass, to change the color of the waters in an attractive way. Due to its cost, Williams never implemented the color wheel, so rather than settle for a boring fountain, [Mark] built a virtual color wheel with Neopixels. He went through several prototypes before settling on a pattern with even light distribution and building a PCB. The software is more complex than it might seem; it turns out to require a little color theory to get the transitions to look good, and it also provides a chance for a little razzle-dazzle. He implemented a spiral effect in code, and added a few random white sparkles to the fountain. [Mark] has a few videos of the fountain in action, and it ended up looking quite nice.

We’ve featured [Mark]’s pinball builds before, including his atomic pinball clock, We even celebrated his wizardry in song at one point.

Unique Clock Keeps Time The Fibonacci Way

You say your binary clock no longer has the obfuscation level needed to earn the proper nerd street cred? Feel like you need something a little more mathematically challenging to make sure only the cool kids can tell the time? Then this Fibonacci clock might be just the thing to build.

Granted, [TecnoProfesor]’s clock is a somewhat simplified version of an earlier version that was nigh impossible to decode. But with its color coding and [Piet Mondrian]-esque grids, it’s still satisfyingly difficult to get the time from a quick glance. The area of the blocks represents the Fibonacci sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, and adding up which blocks are illuminated by the RGB LEDs behind the frosted front panel. That lets you tally up to 12 intervals; for the minutes and seconds, there are indicators for the powers multiples of 12 up to 48. Put it all together and you’ve got a unique and attractive graphical time display that’s sure to start interesting conversations when the mathematically disinclined try to use it. Check out the video below as the clock goes from 12:28:01 to 12:28:46. We think.

If this doesn’t scratch your itch for obfuscated clocks, we’ve got plenty of them. From random four-letter words to an analog digital clock to an epic epoch clock, we’ve got them all.

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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.

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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