Serial seven segment LED display shield

pics- serial-seven-segmentLED-600

Raj over at Embedded Lab has just finished a new project article about a serial seven segment LED display shield:

Seven segment LED displays are brighter, more attractive, and provide a far viewing distance as well as a wider viewing angle compared to LCD displays. This project describes a serial seven segment LED display shield for Arduino Uno or compatible boards. The shield consists of eight 0.56″ seven segment displays that are driven by one MAX7219 chip. The shield also features a light dependent resistor (LDR) to implement adaptive brightness control to the LED displays. The LDR output can be fed to A0 or A1 analog input channel of Arduino to read the surrounding illumination level. Arduino can then use that information to adjust the brightness of the LED displays. A demo code and Eagle CAD files are also provided in the latter part of the article.

Full details at Embedded Lab blog.

Handheld Sudoku (Assuming You Have Large Hands)

[Hari Waguna] wanted to build a computerized Sudoku game. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a big deal. You can buy one, of course, but what fun is that? There’s plenty of apps for phones, but again, not much of a challenge. If you want to preserve your hacker cred, you’d use a CPU board like an Arduino or a Raspberry Pi with an LCD screen, right? But if you want to grow your hacker cred, you’d follow [Hari’s] lead and use 81 seven-segment displays and a membrane keyboard.

Driving that many displays takes some doing (in this case shift registers). [Hari] uses some other tricks, like reading the keyboard using a single pin (and a resistor network). He’s made several videos about the project, including the one below.

The PCB measures eight inches by a little over five inches. Maybe that’s handheld. Practical? Probably not. Cool? Undeniably.

We’ve seen something similar before, although perhaps not as compact. If you really want street cred, you can always try nixie tubes.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks

64×16 LED MQTT Laundry Display

When you have an MQTT broker receiving messages, you want to be able to see them. [Xose Pérez] already had a system set up that sent him notifications, but he had a pair of 32×16 LED matrices, so he decided to make a big, bright sign to let him know when he got an important message sent to the broker.

[Xose Pérez] had already built a laundry monitor which was sending messages to an MQTT broker so he wouldn’t forget his laundry sitting in the washing machine. To communicate with the broker, he used an ESP-12. He had already ported an Arduino library for the Holtek HT1362C display drivers used by the matrices to work with his driver board.

mqtt-led-matrix-driver-boardHe wanted to try out SMD soldering so he built a custom PCB to hold the ESP-12, power supply, passive components, and a connector and he describes his methods and results. Instead of hardcoded messages, he wanted the system to be configurable and display messages coming in, not only from his laundry system, but also from other sensors. A web interface, built with jQuery and WebSockets, running on the ESP-12 allows the user to subscribe to a topic on the broker and show a customized name and value on the display when a payload is available.

All-in-all, [Xose Pérez] has posted a great tutorial in which he goes over the hardware he built, the libraries he used, SMD soldering, how he made the enclosure, and even his choice in IDE (PlatformIO). He also posted the software, board designs and enclosure models software and hardware on bitbucket. The end result is a great looking LED matrix that displays not only his laundry’s status, but also anything else he wants to from his MQTT broker.

If you want to try your hand with MQTT, the ESP8266 is a wonderful device for sensor nodes, and any Linux box (like the Raspberry Pi) makes an easy broker. Check out [Elliot Williams’] Minimal MQTT series and you will be up and running in no time.


Filed under: home hacks, led hacks

SIM Card Connectors and White PCBs Make Huge LED Snowflakes Happen

[Mike Harrison] talked about designing and building a huge scale LED lighting installation in which PCBs were used as both electrical and mechanical elements, and presented at Electromagnetic Field 2016. The project involved 84,000 RGBW LEDs, 14,000 microcontrollers and 25,000 PCBs. It had some different problems to solve compared to small jobs, but [Mike] shared techniques that could be equally applied to smaller scale projects or applications. He goes into detail on designing for manufacture and assembly, sourcing the parts, and building the units on-site.

The installation itself was a snowflake display for a high-end shopping mall in Hong Kong in the 2015 Christmas season. [Mike] wanted a small number of modular boards that could be connected together on-site to make up the right shapes. In an effort to minimize the kinds of manufacturing and parts needed, he ended up using modular white PCBs as structural elements as well as electrical. With the exception of some minor hardware like steel wire supports, no part of the huge snowflakes required anything outside of usual PCB manufacturing processes to make. The fewer suppliers, the fewer potential problems. [Mike] goes into design detail at 6:28 in the video.

For the connections between the boards, he ended up using SIM card connectors intended for cell phones. Some testing led to choosing a connector that matched up well with the thickness of a 1.6mm PCB used as a spacer. About 28,000 of them were used, and for a while in 2015 it was very hard to get a hold of that particular part, because they had cleaned everyone out!

Basic Snowflake Pattern A small number of different modular PCBs made up the bulk of the installation. With the exception of some formed steel wire for support, all parts were made using normal PCB manufacturing methods. In between each of the visible rivets is a SIM card connector taking care of the contacts between boards.

About half-way through the video (10:55) [Mike] goes into microcontroller and firmware details. The PIC12F1501 turned out to be a great fit for reasons that included cost, wide operating voltage range, 10-bit PWM for each of Red, Green, Blue, and White, and the low cost of having Microchip program the firmware in at the factory. RGBW LEDs were chosen for a number of reasons, but mainly because the white generated is much more visually consistent across a large display (compared to lighting each of the RGB elements to make white.) He made sure that it was easy to reprogram the firmware across all units easily if needed, because updating thousands of microcontrollers one at a time is just not an option.

Video of the presentation is embedded below, but if you want to go straight to some video of the finished installation, it starts at 21:38.

Using PCB material as a structural component has a lot of potential. We’ve seen it in this clever tiny 7-segment display, and more recently in PocketNC’s FR4 Machine Shield. If you’re interested in trying it yourself, you can learn all about the finer points of how to use FR4 for enclosures.


Filed under: led hacks, Tech Hacks