Wow! It's been so busy around here, we haven't had time to update the blog recently. Thought we'd update everyone on the LED glasses project. First of all: soon. We want to make sure they're durable and thoroughly awesome, and a lot of other projects and work have been keeping us far too busy while Garrett transitions to full-time at macetech.
Waaaaay back in May 2012, we unveiled the newest macetech product at Maker Faire: LED shades!
We hoped to finish up development and release them within a month or two of Maker Faire, but quickly discovered some issues with the design. The first was an electronic problem that was solved by switching to alternate transistors row drivers and control chips. The next was a more subtle, yet crippling problem. It's easy to design something that sits on a shelf and operates forever, but anything worn by people is subject to a lot of stress. We found that our QFN driver ICs were actually breaking internally due to board flex! Solving that problem has required a lot of revision and testing.
Submitted by Garrett on Sun, 03/03/2013 - 20:17.
I made this for New Year's Eve. It has 114 RGB pixels and an MSGEQ7 chip to analyze audio. The pixels are all turned down to 51 max brightness (out of 255). I used an Arduino to control the pixels in one continuous chain, and a USB battery pack for power.
Submitted by Garrett on Sun, 01/06/2013 - 13:44.
Great news! The Call for Makers has been launched for Maker Faire Bay Area 2012. We're excited and apprehensive at the same time...the days seem to melt away in the months before Maker Faire. The Maker Faire site has a nice countdown timer, and we wanted to duplicate that so we could always keep an eye on the dwindling time. So we did it...in style! Check out the video below:
A big Betabrite LED sign (scored from Silicon Valley Electronics Flea Market) receives serial data from an Arduino. The Arduino is keeping track of the difference in time between now and 10:00 AM on May 19th, 2012. Since the Arduino by itself would quickly drift into the meaningless voids of time, we have a ChronoDot installed to keep everything precise. The very handy Time Library by Michael Margolis works as-is with the ChronoDot, and also provides some handy data structures to help do the necessary math.
Here are a few technical details:
The ChronoDot is wired to the Arduino on the following pins:
Submitted by Garrett on Fri, 02/10/2012 - 02:56.
(This article was supposed to be written a lot earlier, but food poisoning had a discouraging effect on the author.)
Every New Year's Eve, up to a million visitors crowd Times Square NYC to see a massive crystal and LED ball descend at the stroke of midnight. The ball has grown increasingly large and complex over the past few years, now 12 feet in diameter and over 32,000 LEDs. While an impressive sight, it's not easy to drop by Times Square when you live on the West Coast. And seeing the ball drop on TV, 3 hours early, just isn't the same. So why not build your own LED ball?
Dropping our own LED ball is a 4-year macetech LLC tradition (well, four drops, and three elapsed years to be precise). The first ShiftBrite LED Modules were produced in early 2008. By the end of 2008, we were doing higher volume production and had founded a new company, macetech LLC. ShiftBrites are a small PCB with an RGB LED and a PWM controller, capable of 1023 levels of brightness for each of the red, green, and blue channels. They can be chained together with 6-pin cables, and sent color commands by a microcontroller. Only 4 data pins are needed to fully control up to 255 pixels in a single chain.
Submitted by Garrett on Fri, 12/30/2011 - 03:17.
Ever since Philips released their Ambilight enabled televisions, hackers around the world have gone "ooooh, cool" and then immediately "how can I build that?"
If you're not familiar with the concept, it's basically a light source that surrounds a display screen. It's not a new idea...many very old televisions had a white "halo" around the screen both to make the screen seem bigger, and to reduce eyestrain. Flat panel televisions are usually mounted on or near a wall, so the idea of putting a glow on the surrounding wall was born. Philips improved on the idea by building a processor into their TVs that analyzes the signal and adjusts a ring of LEDs to match colors. Supposedly this increases immersion and reduces eyestrain...but we all know it just looks really cool.
DIY Ambilight-style setups have been around for years. One of the more popular video viewing programs, VLC, even ships with a plugin to control external LED hardware. Many purpose-built devices and DIY designs exist too. But you can use general-purpose controllers, like an Arduino, with general-purpose LED modules. Here are a few easy to build projects (some of which are pretty recent): Read more»
Submitted by Garrett on Tue, 10/25/2011 - 22:21.
A friend sprung this project on us at nearly the last minute...he wanted a light-up mohawk on his Viking helmet. Fortunately he already had the helmet, and we already had plenty of LEDs and raw materials.
PlanningThe main obstacle turned out to be the fiber optics. We discussed several options; it's pretty easy to locate bulk art-grade fiber optic spools, but cutting a few thousand fibers didn't sound like a feasible task considering less than a week remaining (plus lots of other tasks demanding spare time after work). And we had no way to easily tell how stiff the fiber was, or if it would try to curl up.
I remembered seeing street vendors selling light-up wands with fiber optics. They proved to be a cheap source of premade fiber bundles of the correct length and stiffness, already clamped into a handy ferrule. I didn't have time to hunt down a street vendor, so found a source of cheap bulk wands at FlashingBlinkyLights.com. The price for just the optics was acceptable, not even counting the rest of the handle, batteries, LEDs, etc.
This needed to be compact, and the helmet needed to be audio reactive too, so I also grabbed some parts from Sparkfun: Arduino Pro Mini, Electret Mic Breakout, and MSGEQ7 Spectrum Analyzer. Also needed a tiny case and some battery holders, got those from Jameco.
Submitted by Garrett on Wed, 08/31/2011 - 18:27.
It's been a week since the latest Maker Faire in San Mateo. We're still recovering from the effort of putting together our project, talking to thousands of curious Maker Faire visitors, and meeting all the famous (well, maker-famous) people we usually only see on the internet.
As always, the weeks leading up to Maker Faire were a frenzy of activity. For some reason, at macetech we have an aversion to bringing the same major project twice. We'll re-use some of the smaller ones, if they're still around, but the big project always has to be built from scratch and nothing like last year's project.
Submitted by Garrett on Sat, 05/28/2011 - 17:08.
Our major project for Maker Faire this year is an overhead matrix of Chinese lanterns, lit by new versions of our Satellite Modules and a new controller. There will be 128 lanterns laid out in a 16x8 matrix, inside a 20x10 foot canopy. The lanterns will react to music and we'll let the audience select visualizations and hopefully interact in other ways. It's going to look awesome!
However, we're really busy just building the thing. I've gotten the LED code working well, and have tested up to 25 frames per second streaming pixel colors from Processing to an Arduino to control everything, but coming up with neat effects takes more time than we have. Here's one I have made so far:
Therefore...I'm hoping that a few helpful Processing dabblers could download my existing code and try making some new effects. I've wrapped it all up in a matrix simulator as you can see in the Youtube video. Simply draw the effect in the upper 320x160 area, and it will be pixelized in the bottom half. The pixelized area is what will be sent to the LEDs, so I need effects that look good in the pixel area too. I have FFT and beat detection all set up, you just need to hook your ideas into that. Stuff with bright colors, simple shapes, and computationally forgiving will work best. Easy!
Submitted by Garrett on Wed, 05/11/2011 - 18:07.
PROBLEM: Even when both ceiling lights are on in the kitchen, the sink has always been too dark at night. Anyone standing at the sink creates a shadow from the ceiling light, making it tough to properly wash dishes or vegetables.
SOLUTION: Install a light above the sink.
BONUS ROUND: Build the light from parts I already had, and make it automatically turn itself on and off.
I decided to build it using stuff from around the house. Of course, this isn't just any house...this is a geek house! So the components below were naturally considered household items. I decided to use an ATtiny84 as the heart of the project. It's way under-utilized here, but I didn't have any ATtiny25s in stock. I could have used a 555 instead of a microcontroller, but then I wouldn't have gotten a cool fade-in and fade-out PWM effect. Plus the 555 at one minute or higher time scales is a little ungainly, with the high value capacitor required. And I REALLY wanted a smooth fade-in. I would have also needed to invert the trigger signal from the PIR sensor.
The schematic: Read more»
Submitted by Garrett on Sat, 03/05/2011 - 23:23.
SparkFun is doing it again! Tomorrow (January 13th, 2011) they will be giving away $150,000 worth of free electronics hardware to whoever is lucky enough to access their servers during the inevitable Internet stampede on their website. We talked to a couple of their IT people at Maker Faire New York, and they're optimistic about the steps they were planning even four months ago...still, it'll be an amazing accomplishment if their site weathers the storm unaffected.
In any case, we hope that some of you electronics hobbyists out there manage to place your order, and get some cool stuff for your next project. Remember that several macetech products are available at SparkFun: the ShiftBrite, MegaBrite, ShiftBar, and Satellite Module 001. If you snag some of our products during Free Day, feel free to contact us for any help you need getting your LED product blinking and glowing.
Additionally, we will be running a special deal on our own site! We aren't big enough to give away lots of stuff, but we can help complete your project by giving away some free accessories. So here's the deal:
Starts: 12:00am Pacific time (midnight) Thursday, January 13th
Submitted by Garrett on Wed, 01/12/2011 - 16:01.