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Fun with WS2812 LED Sticks

Back when I used to build museum exhibits we put WS2812 LEDs (also known as “NeoPixels”) into things. Lots of things. Sometimes inside cabinet walls or tubes or pipes for glow effects, and sometimes as feedback devices for interactivity. I’ve also built a few signs before, so I’m not new to NeoPixels/WS2812 LEDs…

But I never seem to have any laying around wired up to just mess around with. So I fixed that. I mean, I’ve got tons of strips lying around in a box in my office, but I wanted something smaller and easier to deal with. I found these poorly named Comidox 5PCS WS2812 5050 RGB 8 LEDs Light Strip Driver Board 8 Channel Built-in Full Color-Driven Development Board Black for Arduino which is 5 sticks with each having 8 LEDs, for a total of 40 NeoPixels. (And yeah, it was less than $8 for 5 sticks! That’s 20 cents per NeoPixel.)

What I didn’t know when ordering is that they came all together as one that you are meant to snap apart. Why bother!?! I just soldered them up to make an LED matrix! (Terrible soldering, but it does work.)

Now I feel like I have something handy, on my desk, that I can easily use to prototype NeoPixel development. I started out with the Adafruit_NeoPixel which I’ve used in the past, but now I’m using the FastLED library, which so far seems pretty awesome. There are also some matrix libraries I’ll need to investigate. I’m running these from an Arduino Pro Micro with the Leonardo firmware on it, which seems totally up to the task.

By the way… I recently realized it’s been over 10 years of “screwing around” with Arduino boards, and in that time I’ve been a Technical Editor for two Arduino books, taught Physical Computing (“Arduino for Artists”) in a university, taught classes at a makerspace and a museum, and written plenty of guides about Arduino projects. It’s been an interesting ride!

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Recording Sign

I recently made a few “Recording” signs for Brown Dog Gadgets so that when we are recording or streaming no one opens the doors to the studio. This is one of those projects where I thought about it too long instead of just getting busy making it. And of course, like everything, there’s the issue of it being “good enough” versus being “done” and yeah, I just need to find a middle ground between those two things.

I did a quick design in 2D so I could laser cut some 1/8″ Baltic Birch plywood. I didn’t put calipers on the wood so the fit was a little tight, but nothing a few minutes of sandpaper couldn’t solve. Also, since I painted the pieces it slotted together fairly tight so I didn’t even add the 3mm hardware I had planned on. I’m pretty sure if it falls off the wall there’s about a 50% chance it’ll stay put together versus coming apart. I’ll call that a win.

Josh and I talked about using an ESP8266 so we could control it from the studio wirelessly, or just running power to it from within the studio but in the end I just went really simple (hey, it’s version 1.0) and there’s an ATtiny85 programmed using the Arduino IDE to just blink a string of NeoPixels on and off in red. Simple works and usually gets done… eventually.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll make a version 2 that is controlled via WiFi and use matte paint instead of gloss and actually design in an on/off switch hole instead of drilling it later. Stay Tuned!

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Brinn Labs Hexalight

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I’ve been messing around with NeoPixels quite a bit lately, and I wanted a small portable light I could use to show off a few “makery” things. So the Brinn Labs Hexalight was created.

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It consists of a 3D printed base made from black PLA filament. It was close to a ten hour print, one of the longest I’ve done on my Monoprice Maker Select Plus 3D printer. It turned out well. There’s also a piece of laser cut Acrylic for the top…

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I only had clear Acrylic handy, and I experimented with a few ideas for light diffusion (including sanding the backside of the Acrylic, and using some HDPE from a milk jug) but in the end I just left the protective backing sheet that comes on the Acrylic in place. (There’s one small tear in it, though next time if I do this I’ll be more careful ahead of time since I’ll have a plan in place.)

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Some slotted pan head screws hold the top in place. I would have preferred some nice hex hardware (obviously!) but didn’t have any on hand, and wanted to complete this build quickly. (Maybe I’ll change it out in the future.)

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There’s a piece of scrap wood inside that holds the NeoPixels in place. The wood is not laser cut, but hacked up using a band saw. It’s “good enough” for a hidden piece. (Sometimes I work on projects in multiple places and have to use whatever tools are available at the time.)

The three strips of three NeoPixels each is about what I could fit inside. The strips run in parallel, so there’s not a lot pixels to work with. It also makes the transitions not super-smooth, though I still need to play with the code a bit more.

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Here’s a shot of the inside from the back/bottom. It’s messy. There’s an ATtiny85 on a board I’ve used before. This allows for the chip to be removed and reprogrammed. Yes, you can skip an Arduino and use an ATtiny85 for small simple NeoPixel projects. (And still program them with the Arduino IDE.)

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There’s a pair of wires that lead out a channel in the back/bottom and go to a barrel jack connector. I can then power it with a 5 volt power supply, either from a wall wart or a USB battery.

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I modeled the 3D printed part in OpenSCAD. It’s easy to make hexagons, and I just added a large squarish hole in the middle for the electronics.

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The red piece is a block I used to do the boolean difference for the main piece. This allowed me to slice the hexagon at a specific angle so I could just end up with the part I wanted.

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Here’s a view of the final piece viewed from the front. You can also see the little “shelf” I made for the piece of wood holding the NeoPixels to fit onto.

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Here’s the model from the bottom. There’s the channel for the power wires to run out of. This was just another boolean difference with a cylinder this time to create a half circle channel.

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I used the Silhouette Cameo to cut a piece of black vinyl to put on the front so the logo could light up. Getting the vinyl perfectly aligned was a little tricky, so next time I might try another method. (Or just do a better job.)

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