Arduino Word Clock

I first saw a clock with this type of design on the Make Blog over a year ago. It is an incredibly clever idea, but the $1000 price tag is a bit much for my taste. I had seen a few attempts at a DIY version but most of them were still too complex or expensive to build. Needless to say when I saw this Instuctable I got really excited. It is based off of another Instructable, however, it simplifies the design and construction to the point where I felt confident that I could build it.

I followed the Instructable pretty closely, with the following exceptions:

LEDS:  I got my LEDs from Evil Mad Science, which sells packs of superbright 5mm LEDs in various colors. This project requires a pack of 100 white LEDs. For current limiting resistors I used 470 Ohm instead of 1K Ohm. This allowed me more flexibility since I can dim the LEDs as much as I want, but I can never make them brighter. The LEDs I used are very efficient and only draw 4.8mA with a 470 Ohm resistor, so the maximum power draw for the clock will be about 150mA. Consequently power usage is not an issue since I used a repurposed cell phone charger as the power supply and it can provide 700mA at 5V.

Letter Mask:  I had to use 4 transparencies stacked in order to get the mask dark enough. I also used a wider border for the letter mask to cover up some imperfections around the edges of my transparencies. For LED diffusion I used some translucent plastic folders that I found at an office supply store. I got a multicolor pack so that I could try different configurations and decided that a combination of one gray and one white folder cut to fit in the frame was the best looking and most functional choice.

LED Holder:  Instead of a cardboard LED holder I used foam poster board. This is a much stiffer material and makes the holder much sturdier, however, it is also thicker so I had to make the light baffles 1″ high rather than 1-1/8″.

Circuit Board:  Since the wiring on this project is fairly complex I decided early on that I wanted to keep the circuit board as simple as possible. In order to accomplish this I used two Radioshack breadboard matching printed circuit boards. These are great boards since they have power buses running down the sides of each board and they have plenty of room for the 7 chips necessary for this project. This made it very straightforward to scratchbuild an Arduino on one of the boards and then wire it to the other chips. Note: when building an Arduino in this way you need an FTDI cable which plugs into the 6-Pin header on the board in order to program the Arduino.

I mounted the boards side-by-side on a piece of acrylic to make it easier to work with. I also wired the board such that I could add a photoresistor in the future to allow for dynamic LED dimming (its wiring is bundled separately for later use as shown in the photos). Instead of wiring headers I just wired directly from the circuit board to the LEDs using multicolor wire to differentiate which word group I was wiring to (you can see each ULN2003A’s bundle grouped together in the photos).

The size of these boards prevented me from trying to mount them inside the picture frame, however, mounting the boards on the back wasn’t a problem. As shown in the photos I had use some stacked foam board as spacers between the back of the picture frame and the wall to keep the board from rubbing agains the wall. I also changed the power socket mounting from the back of the frame to the bottom by cutting a notch in the wood and gluing it in place.

Conclusion:  The biggest problem I had with this project was dealing with a slightly imprecise LED layout. This resulted in some of light baffles partially blocking the wrong letters. After removing the problem baffles, however, I found that my diffusion layers worked well at making up for any discrepancies due to LED placement as well as reducing cross-letter light bleed to an acceptable level. As far as the code goes the only changes I made were done to make use of external pull-down resistors instead of internal and to clean up the code a little bit since some of the comments no longer made sense. I really like this project. It is not only cool looking, but it is useful as well.

Peggy 2 LED Matrix

The Peggy 2 is a 25×25 LED matrix kit from Evil Mad Scientist Labs. Ever since I first saw the Peggy kit I thought it was one of the cooler kits available. I finally got around to getting one of these awesome kits and it is a sight to behold. By far the largest kit I have ever built, it is also the best quality kit I have come across. The Peggy 2’s circuit board is probably twice the thickness of a normal printed circuit board, a welcome feature for such a large board since the added thickness makes the board very rigid. You can purchase the Peggy 2 in a variety of kit configurations; I got the so called awesomeness bundle which includes a power supply, extra pushbuttons, and 640 diffused 10mm LEDs in the color of your choosing (white in my case).

The build itself took around 2 hours to assemble the control circuitry and another 4.5 hours to solder all of the LEDs. It’s a bit of an undertaking, but when you’re done it’s a great feeling when all 625 LEDs light up. To program the Peggy you use the Arduino IDE and download the Peggy Library. I haven’t experimented too much with it yet, but I did try out some of the demo programs from the library and you can see what the Peggy can do in the video below. I look forward to playing with this project a lot in the future.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Animated LED Art

athf2athf1On January 31, 2007 Boston was shutdown when pieces of LED artwork that looked like characters from the Cartoon Network show Aqua Teen Hunger Force were mistaken for bombs. Ever since this occurred I have wanted to build my own version to hang up in my apartment.

My version is designed to look like the character Ignignokt; in case you don’t watch the show Ignignokt and Err (his sidekick) are Mooninites (residents of the moon, designed to look like characters from an 8 bit video game) who occasionally come down to Earth to annoy the Aqua Teens. I chose Ignignokt because he is green and blue (Err is purple and blue) and green LEDs are cheaper than purple LEDs. My design used 72 green and 40 blue LEDs.

athf_schematicI got my LEDs from Mouser and I chose them based primarily on their diffusion angle (over 40 degrees), which allows for better viewing angles than other LEDs. In order for an LED array like this to function properly the LEDs must be wired in parallel (ie. all of the cathodes are connected together as well as all of the anodes). I also had to subdivide the LEDs into a group of all of the green LEDs (D6 on the schematic) and all of the blue LEDs (D5 on the schematic). This had to be done because the LEDs were different types and there were more greens than blues, causing the current draw of the groups to be unbalanced. This created a problem where only the green group would light, consequently, I adjusted the resistor values such that I balanced the current drawn by both LED groups. There are also four additional groups to create the effect of Ignignokt giving the finger. These groups are controlled by a PIC16F84A microcontroller which orchestrates the animation of the LEDs. As shown in the schematic, group D1 is the hand and groups D2-D4 are the finger. The code (written in PicBasic) is very simple, involving only turning on specific digital outputs of the PIC for set periods of time. I can power the whole thing off a 9 Volt battery using a power circuit similar to that shown in the schematic for my GPS project (I substituted a 78L05 for the 7805 voltage regulator since this circuit draws less current). Check out the video to see Ignignokt in action.