Using the Shades Audio Sensor without RGB Shades

While the Shades Audio Sensor was designed to work with the RGB Shades, it's really just a breakout board for the MSGEQ7 spectrum analyzer chip. It also has a microphone, pre-amplifier, and gain switch to select high and low sensitivity modes. We've gone through a number of revisions of the hardware, mostly fine-tuning the power supply filtering to make the Shades Audio Sensor reject most of the power supply noise caused by LED applications.

Here's a video showing how to connect the Shades Audio Sensor to an Arduino UNO. We're using a ShiftBrite Shield, but any proto shield or a simple breadboarded circuit would work. As a demo of the finished project, we've connected it to an old ShiftBrite project (Rusty VU) from 2008.

Example code: Rusty VU MSGEQ7

Submitted by Garrett on Sat, 10/22/2016 - 19:11.

Super-sized Musixel Wall

At the World Maker Faire in New York City this year, we were able to show off the RGB Shades in the Maker Shed for the first time ever! It was a lot of fun, and we were positioned right next to our friends at Spikenzie Labs. They brought some new products, including the Musixel (an audio sensor that controls a strip of addressable LEDs).

Here's a quick demo video of what the Musixel kit can do:

It's a small PCB with an audio input jack, an 8-pin PIC microcontroller, an MSGEQ7 seven-band spectrum analyzer chip, and various passive components. The PIC reads analog values corresponding to several frequency bands from the audio jack, and outputs WS2811-compatible commands. Spikenzie Labs includes a strip of 16 WS2812 LEDs, but it will work with up to 64 WS2812 LEDs arranged in an 8x8 matrix.

 Read more»

Submitted by Garrett on Sun, 11/08/2015 - 20:17.

RGB Shades Jack-o'-Lantern

Here's a quick demo of how to create a new pattern for the RGB Shades. We'll add some jack-o'-lantern triangle eyes, and make them flicker orange just like the real thing (well, sort of).

First off, here's the final result. It's pretty hard to capture the effect on camera, especially since orange colors seem to max out the sensor so that it always appears bright. But watch the reflection in the table and you'll get the idea:

We're using codebender to edit and upload a custom sketch to the RGB Shades. Once you get the browser plugin installed, it's a really easy way to get started without a lot of downloading and setup. Plus, all the required libraries are pre-installed and kept up-to-date. In this case, we're using the excellent FastLED library, which controls the WS2812/APA104/Neopixel style LEDs easily and has many helper functions for managing pixels.

(A Codebender sketch used to be located here. Sorry, that service was shut down!)

Clicking that should display a sketch editing window much like the one below (if you're logged in on codebender):

You can clone the project to your own account by pressing the Clone button. Then, change the name to make the project more descriptive by clicking the name of the project and editing the text there.

 Read more»

Submitted by Garrett on Mon, 10/26/2015 - 23:56.

WS2811 LED Pixel Hat

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.

Homemade New Year's Eve LED Ball Drops

(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.

NYE Ball 2008/2009

The first ball was a spur of the moment idea during Christmas vacation. I happened to have a "stellated icosahedron" made from a bunch of drinking straws (it was something to do between interviews during a few months of unemployment in 2006). A stellated icosahedron has 32 intersections where ShiftBrites could be placed...coincidentally, I had a bunch of used ShiftBrites that had been sitting out in the rain for a Christmas light display on our front fence. I had seen an article about the new six-foot, LED and crystal New Year's Eve ball, and decided to give it a try. A few minutes, an Arduino, and some zip ties later, and the ball was ready. We made a 20 foot pole out of electrical conduit, a pulley, and some light rope. Unfortunately no video of the actual drop, but the neighbors all came out to celebrate!

 Read more»

Submitted by Garrett on Fri, 12/30/2011 - 03:17.

mtAtmo: Insanely Bright 60W LED Backlight for a 58" Plasma Screen

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.

Viking Helmet with OctoBrite Fiber Optic RGB LED Mohawk

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.


The 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.

 Read more»

Submitted by Garrett on Wed, 08/31/2011 - 18:27.

Maker Faire Bay Area 2011

macetech at Maker Faire

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.


 Read more»

Submitted by Garrett on Sat, 05/28/2011 - 17:08.

Know Processing? Please help us with Maker Faire!

Only ten days to Maker Faire as I am writing this! That's why I need your help. Well...I need your help if you like hacking around in Processing, making neat looking graphical effects.

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!

Download Processing 1.5: http://processing.org/download/
 Read more»

Submitted by Garrett on Wed, 05/11/2011 - 18:07.

Simple automatic kitchen sink light

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.

Parts list:

  • PIR Motion Sensor
  • ATtiny84
  • 16 100mA white 10mm LEDs
  • LM340T-5.0 regulator
  • IRF612 MOSFET (not ideal, but works)
  • Old RadioShack proto board (do they even still sell those?)
  • 10uF capacitor
  • 0.1uF capacitor
  • 4 39ohm resistors
  • ~15V DC power supply
  • Wire and solder
  • Poster board
  • Zip ties

The schematic:  Read more»

Submitted by Garrett on Sat, 03/05/2011 - 23:23.