This Nearly NIMO Clock Fakes it and Makes It

Pity the aficionado of rare vintage displays. While Nixies and VFD tubes get all the attention and benefit from a thriving market to satisfy demand, the rarer displays from the mid-20th century period are getting harder and harder to find. One copy of an especially rare display is hard enough to find. Six copies for a clock? That’s a tall order.

That doesn’t mean you can’t fudge it, though, which is how this faux-NIMO clock came to be. [Paul Bricmont] was inspired by [Fran Blanche]’s NIMO tube primer, wherein the rare, single-digit CRT display was put through its paces. We’ve got to admit, it’s an easy display to fall in love with, thanks to its eerie blue phosphor glow, high voltage supply, and general quirkiness. [Paul] was unable to lay hands on a single tube, though, so he faked it with six tiny TFT displays and some plastic lenses. The lenses mimic the curved front glass of the original NIMO, while the TFT displays provide the stencil-style images of each numeral. The phosphor glow comes from replacing the stock white TFT backlight with a Neopixel array that can produce just the right shade of blue-green. 3D-printed modules hold two digits each, and the usual Arduino components run the show. The effect is quite convincing, although we bet some software tweaks could add things like faux burn-in and perhaps soften the edges of the digits to really sell it.

What other rare displays could be replicated this way? Given the variety of displays that were tried in the pre-LED era, it may be a rich vein to mine.

Are Patent Claims Coming for Your WS2812?

There are some components which are used within our sphere so often as to become ubiquitous, referred to by their part number without the need for a hasty dig through a data sheet to remind oneself just what we are talking about. You can rattle a few of them off, the 555, the 741, the ESP8266, and so on.

In the world of LEDs, the part that most immediately springs to mind is the Worldsemi WS2812 addressable LED. This part consists of three LEDs in red, green, and blue, all in the same package with a serial interface allowing a chain of individually addressable multicolour lights to be created. We’ve seen them in all sorts of places, and if you don’t recognise the part number then perhaps you will by one of the names they’re sold under: Neopixel.

Yesterday we received an email from our piratical friends at Pimoroni, the British supplier of all forms of electronic goodies. Among their range they have a reasonable number of products containing WS2812s, and it was these products that had formed the subject of an unexpected cease-and-desist letter. APA Electronic are the manufacturer of the APA102 addressable LED (which you may know as the Dotstar), and their cease-and-desist asking for the products to be withdrawn from sale rests on their holding a patent for an addressable multicolour LED. We’d be very interested to hear whether any other suppliers of WS2812-based parts have received similar communications.

US patent number 8094102B2 is indeed a patent for a “Single full-color LED with driving mechanism”, which does look a lot like a WS2812. But as always, such things are not as cut-and-dried as they might first appear. The LED in the patent for example relies upon a clock line for its operation, while the Worldsemi part doesn’t. I am not a lawyer so I’d hesitate to call this a baseless and speculative move, but I suspect that there will be plenty over which the two semiconductor companies can duke it out in the courtroom.

It’s fair to say that a large part of the ethos of our movement shares something with that of the world of open-source, so news of legal manoeuvres such as this are never likely to go down well. We’re small fry in this context and our commercial influence on APA102 or WS2812 sales will be minimal, but inevitably APA’s standing in our eyes will be diminished. Companies such as Pimoroni are not the target but a piece of collateral damage in a battle between manufacturers.

Whether the patent has been violated or not can only be decided by the courts. It is not uncommon for patent holders to go after companies selling the “infringing” products in hopes that rather than risk a costly court battle, they simply adhere to the demands, in this case buying parts from APA and not from Worldsemi.

So, if you rely on addressable LEDs, watch out! There may be trouble ahead.

Header image: Tristan Robitaille [CC BY-SA 4.0].

Definitely-Not-Neopixel Rings, From Scratch!

The WS2812 addressable LED is a marvellous component. Any colour light you want, all under the control of your favourite microcontroller, and daisy-chainable to your heart’s content. Unsurprisingly they have become extremely popular, and can be found in a significant number of the project s you might read about in these pages.

A host of products have appeared containing WS2812s, among which Adafruit’s Neopixel rings are one of the more memorable. But they aren’t quite as cheap as [Hyperlon] would like, so the ever-resourceful hacker has created an alternative for the constructor of more limited means. It takes the form of a circular PCB that apes the Adafruit original, and it claims to deliver a Bill of Materials cost that is 85% cheaper.

In reality the Instructables tutorial linked above is as much about how to create a PCB and surface-mount solder as it is specific to the pixel ring, and many readers will already be familiar with those procedures. But we won’t rest until everyone out there has tried their hands at spinning their own PCB project, and this certainly proves that such an endeavour is not out of reach. Whether or not you pay for the convenience of the original or follow this lead is your own choice.

The real thing has been in so many projects it’s difficult to pick just one to link to. This Christmas tree is rather nice.

Ambient Lighting for Baby with the ESP8266

There are plenty of great reasons to have a child. Perhaps you find the idea of being harshly criticized by a tiny person very appealing, or maybe you enjoy somebody screaming nonsense at you while you’re trying to work on something. But for us, we think the best reason for procreation is getting another excuse to build stuff. It’ll be what, at least two years before a baby can solder or program a microcontroller? Somebody’s going to have to do it for them until then.

To try to help his baby daughter get on a better sleep schedule, [Amir Avni] decided to outfit her room with some “smart” lighting to establish when it’s time for her to wake up. Not only can he and his wife control the time the lights come on to “day” mode, but they can also change the colors. For example, they can switch over to a red glow at night. Despite some learning experience setbacks, the both the parents and the baby are very happy with the final product.

An ESP8266 controls a WS2812 LED strip to provide the adjustable lighting, and a DHT22 sensor was added to the mix to detect the temperature and humidity in the baby’s room. [Amir] used Blynk to quickly throw together a slick mobile application that allows for complete control of the brightness and color of light in the room, as well as provides a readout of the environmental data pulled from the DHT22.

But not everything went according to plan. [Amir] thought he could power the LED strip from the ESP8266 development board by soldering to the 5 V side of its AMS1117 voltage regulator. Which worked fine, until he turned on too many LEDs. Then it pulled too much current through a resistor connected to the regulator, and let all the magic smoke out. An important reminder of what can happen when we ask more of a circuit than what it was designed for.

We’ve covered many awesome projects that were born of a parental need, from feature packed baby monitors to devices seemingly designed to program nostalgia in the little one’s subconscious.

RCA TV Gets New Life As Interactive Atltvhead

TVs are usually something you sit and passively watch. Not so for [Nate Damen’s] interactive, wearable TV head project, aka Atltvhead. If you’re walking around Atlanta, Georgia and you see him walking around with a TV where his head should be, introduce yourself! Or sign into Twitch chat and take control of what’s being displayed on the LEDs which he’s attached to the screen. Besides being wearable technology, it’s also meant to be an interactive art piece.

For this, his third version, the TV is a 1960’s RCA Victor Portable Television. You can see some of the TVs he found for previous versions on his hackaday.io page. They’re all truly vintage. He gutted this latest one and attached WS2812 LED strips in a serpentine pattern inside the screen. The LEDs are controlled by his code and the FastLED library running on an ESP8266. Power comes from four NiMH AA-format batteries, giving him 5 V, which he regulates down to 3.3 V. His phone serves as a WiFi hotspot.

[Nate] limits the commands so that only positive things can be displayed, a heart for example. Or you can tweak what’s being displayed by changing the brightness or make the LEDs twinkle. Judging by the crowds we see him attracting in the first video below, we’d say his project was a huge success. In the second video, Nate does a code walkthrough and talks about some of his design decisions.

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PIC16Maze Upgrades Secret Maze Game

We really like it when a reader is inspired by something they see on Hackaday, build on it, and let us know so we can pass it on. In this case, [Vegipete] made a secret maze game using a minimal number of parts and some neat software trickery.

It’s built around an 8-pin PIC16F18313 microcontroller, uses a joystick for input, and nine WS2812 LEDs to display the player and the surrounding maze walls. His inspiration was [David Johnson-Davies’] minimalist secret maze game built around the 8-pin ATTiny85. In that one, [David] cleverly used charlieplexing to get four pins to control four LEDs and four pushbuttons. [Vegipete’s] use of the WS2812 LEDs allowed him to control the LEDs with just one pin, and also get color while using three pins for the joystick and its button. He may use another pin in the future for sound and vibration.

He goes into some detail on the WS2812 protocol, how communication is done with the LEDs using just one pin and different pulse-lengths to represent 0 and 1. We’ll leave you to see his post for more depth but basically, he introduces a module on the PIC called the Configurable Logic Cell (CLC) which makes this easy and frees up processor cycles for the user’s code to do other things.

Secret maze wall bitsHis source code is available on request but he does detail a neat software trick he uses for rotating the view. It may be confusing for some but as you move through the maze, your viewpoint rotates so that up is always the direction you’re facing. Luckily, the walls surrounding the user can be represented using 8-bits, four for east, west, north, and south, and four more for the corners. The maze is stored as a bitmap and from it, 8-bit values are extracted for the current position, each bit representing a wall around the position. To rotate the walls to match the user’s current orientation, the bits are simply shifted as needed. Then they’re shifted out to set each LED. Check it out in the video below.

It works very well despite the minimal interface and part count.

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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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