Disco Ain’t Dead: Blinky Ball Makes You Solder Inside a Dome

Disco balls take a zillion mirrors glued to a sphere and shine a spotlight on them. But what if the ball itself was the light source? Here’s a modern version that uses addressable LEDs in a 3D-printed sphere that also hides the electronics inside the ball itself.

Check out the video below to see the fantastic results. It’s a Teensy 3.6 driving a whopping 130 WS2812 LEDs to make this happen. (Even though the sphere has the lowest surface area to volume ratio.) There’s even a microphone and an accelerometer to make the orb interactive. Hidden inside is a 4400 mAh battery pack that handles recharging and feeds 5 V to the project.

For us, it’s the fabrication that really makes this even more impressive. The sphere itself is 3D printed as four rings that combine to form a sphere. This makes perfect spacing for the LEDs a snap, but you’re going to spend some time soldering the voltage, ground, and data connections from pixel to pixel. In this case that’s greatly simplified because the LEDs were sourced from AliExpress already hosted on a little circle of PCB so you’re not trying to solder on the component itself. Still, that’s something like 390 wires requiring 780 solder joints!

We love seeing an LED ball you can hold in your hand. But if you do want something bigger, try this 540 LED sphere built from triangular PCBs.

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Advent Calendar Tracks The Days Until Christmas

Internet-connected Advent calendarWhat’s a hacker to do when Halloween’s over and a new source of ideas is needed for more hacks? Make something for Christmas of course. That’s what [Dario Breitenstein] did when he made his Advent calendar both as a decoration and to help instill some Christmas spirit.

Designed in SketchUp, it’s a WS2812 LED strip mounted in a clean looking walnut enclosure. The light diffuses through 3D-printed PETG lids with vinyl over them to outline the days. Naturally, it had to be Internet-connected and so an ESP8266 based WEMOS D1 mini board fetches the date and time from an NTP server. Sundays light up in red and Christmas Eve in purple.

This appears to be just the thing hackers like [vk2zay] could use for inspiration during their sort-of-annual Advent Calendar of Circuits wherein a different circuit is made each day leading up to Christmas.

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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