PCBmodE: Make your PCB a work of art

The folks at BoldPort have created PCBmodE, free open source software for designing printed circuit boards, but with an artistic perspective. Traditional EDA tools are designed from an engineering perspective, whereas PCBmodE treats the PCB as a creative palette. They aim to give you freedom to express your design with all the tools of the medium.

We wanted to create circuit boards that have curvey traces, meandering paths, and multiple soldermask layers, so we developed PCBmodE (say “PCB mode”), an open source Python software that unshackle us from the constraints imposed by traditional PCB design tools. We use the power of Inkscape – the leading open source vector graphics editor — to achieve any shape imaginable. Together with our powerful back-end tools, we can manufacturable beautifully functional boards.

They’ve posted about several of their example boards including pieceof (pictured above), a Raspberry Pi daughterboard called shimmy, and a tribute board dedicated to Bob Pease. This is a really neat approach to building circuit boards, and it looks like it has a lot of potential.

Surface Mount LEDs on a Through-hole PCB

Peggy 2le Surface Mount

Peter T. recently stopped by our shop with his Peggy 2LE and showed us his incredibly cool hack. He had noticed that the 0.1″ pin spacing for a standard through-hole LED is just about perfect to accommodate LEDs in a 1206 surface mount package.

Peggy 2le Surface Mount

Once he had finished populating all the LED locations, he brought it by again. He used an alignment jig he had made to keep everything in straight rows while soldering.

Peggy 2le Surface Mount

The surface mount LEDs look great on the grid designed for T-1 3/4!

Peggy 2le Surface Mount

We plugged it in so we could see his pretty orange LEDs in action. Thanks to Peter for bringing it by and letting us take pictures!

Lightning Necklace

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Erin “RobotGrrl” recently posted about a wearables project:

Here was a quick project that I created in time for C2MTL. It’s a simple, blinky, 3D printed, wearable electronic. We wanted to wear something that would be interesting and a conversation starter.

lightning_lolnecklace_3

 

She used a LOL Shield on top of a Diavolino in a 3D printed case with a translucent lightning bolt. It was a success:

I wonder if all wearable electronic projects are like this- if people come up to you just because it’s something different and want to know more. Perhaps more world-wide friendliness & curiosity could be an unexpected result from wearable electronics! So, it worked and we were able to get people to talk to us. I extremely recommend this to other shy/not-exactly-social people.

Alpha Clock Five: Introducing the Blue Edition!

Introducing our newest open source hardware kit: The Blue Edition of Alpha Clock Five.

Alpha Clock Five Red  Alpha Clock Five White

Alpha Clock Five is our flagship clock kit, which thus far has been available only in a Red Edition and in a White Edition. Whichever color you happen to like, it is a full-featured, beautiful, and extraordinarily easy-to-read desk clock based around oversized 2.3″ alphanumeric LED displays. It’s designed to work equally well as a bedside alarm clock and as a computer-controlled alphanumeric data display device.

We’ve already written extensively about the core design of Alpha Clock Five. We’ve also written about the modes and features added in version 2.0 of our Arduino-compatible firmware (such as date display and daisy chained scrolling text), and about the hardware changes necessary to support the White Edition of the kit. Fortunately, the changes that we made in order to support the White Edition also allow us to support the use of blue LEDs, just as easily. And so— by popular request —we now present the Blue Edition.

 

Here, the Blue Edition is shown with a soda can for scale. These LEDs are big and bright, and cast a heavy glow on the soda can and tabletop. (The usual caveats about the difficulty of photographing LEDs apply: A camera cannot capture the apparent intensity of pure blue LEDs in the same way that your eyes can.)

 

As with the other Alpha Clock Five kits, the control buttons are cut as flexures into the top of the laser-cut acrylic case, that can bend down to contact right-angle tactile button switches at the top edge of the circuit board. The top and bottom sides of the case are made of black acrylic, and the rear panel is made from smoke-gray acrylic.

For the Blue Edition, the front face of the case is made of deep blue transparent acrylic, which helps to increase display contrast, especially in brightly lit office environments.

Without the top and back panels, you can see the electronics within: the AVR microcontroller, LED driver chips, transistors, Chronodot RTC module and the other parts that make it all work.

 

The Blue Edition of Alpha Clock Five is available now at the Evil Mad Scientist shop.

Senko [Flash]

Tatsu Iida, a member of oxoxo [zero by zero] wrote in to tell us about the interactive LED installation entitled Senko [Flash] which they showed at the Tokushima LED Art Festival in April.

senko-body

They used a Peggy 2 to drive a field full of LED illuminated spheres, along with IR sensors to detect visitors entering the array. Each new person would trigger a new sphere to light up and move through the field.

閃光 [Senko] - Tokushima LED Art Festival

This is the largest installation we’ve ever seen based on the Peggy 2.

閃光 [Senko] - Tokushima LED Art Festival

Thanks for sharing your incredible project with us!

Links to many more Peggy 2 projects are on the wiki.

The 2013 Bay Area Maker Faire in Pictures

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The 2013 Bay Area Maker Faire is a wrap— and it was amazing.  And we took pictures. We’ve uploaded 362 photos from maker faire right here for your browsing pleasure.   But first, a little preview.

 

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Kids play with giant cardboard robot arms at the Giant Cardboard Robots booth. As they say, “The revolution will be corrugated.”

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Glo-Puter Zero, by Alan Yates, with its phosphor-based memory. Truly a highlight of the show.

 

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Lenore shares a nerdy moment with Akiba from Freaklabs.

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An unusual LED badge, from the Bay Lights project.

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The Western Pyrotechnics Association is a club for people that make their own fireworks.  It’s incredible to see the complexity and artistry of the fireworks and the tooling that makes them.

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A beautiful hovercraft, designed to look like a flying DeLorean; you can see video of it on the project site.

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Back at our booth, the WaterColorBot was a constant hit.  Above, Sylvia shows visitors how to sketch with it in real time.

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An unexpected application: Our friend Bilal Ghalib stopped by and enlisted the WaterColorBot to help him make a birthday card for another friend.

 

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And one of our favorite moments of Maker Faire: a young visitor, tickled pink as she tries out the WaterColorBot, watching it paint a drawing that she had just sketched.

 

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A bicycle-powered cardboard walking rhino, by Kinetic Creatures, makers of walking cardboard robot kits, with Theo Jansen inspired walking mechanisms.

 

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Some of the creations are simpler, like this sidewalk-chalk wielding vibrobot, spinning on a tabletop chalkboard at the Exploratorium booth.

 

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Some of the creations are more technical, like the OpenPNP project to create open source pick and place machines for electronics assembly.  We’re excited by where this is headed, along with a few related projects.

 

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And of course, there’s no shortage of LED goodness.

Please click right here for the rest of our 2013 Bay Area Maker Faire photo album.

 

Infra, a TV built from remote controls

Chris Shen‘s first solo show just opened at 18 Hewett Street in London, and he shared with us about his piece, Infra, built using a Peggy 2:

The idea was to build a infrared display out of old remote controls, using the existing infrared LEDs as pixels of a low-res display. 625 old remote controls are mounted in a metal frame connected by individual wires to a modified Peggy 2 that runs the whole installation.

The main change to the Peggy was to solder molex headers instead of LEDs: this is to allow the wires to be easily plugged in and out of the board which is necessary when dismantling and reassembling the piece. Yes, all 625 remotes are numbered so they can be removed from the frame for transportation! The current and voltage was also adjusted fo IR LEDs as opposed to visible LEDs.

While researching, the main thing I was looking for was the ability to play video (live) on a low-res matrix. I looked into various ways of doing this but once I found the Peggy 2 kit it gave me confidence to go ahead with building Infra because of the open-source nature,  existing work done by Windell, and Jay Clegg’s video Peggy mod.

I connect all the remote controls via 500 meters of speaker wire to the Peggy, held into the frame by a simple looped elastic band. The circuit is mounted to a sheet of acrylic as the circuit bowed with all the wire attached. Each remote had to be opened to solder the wire directly to the LEDs legs. The wire is then routed out through the back of the remote and closed back up.

Preparing all 625 remote controls was the most time consuming part, each was different and often not very clean especially once you get inside. Although looking at all of the remotes individually revealed another side to the project which I’ve documented through a small run of books.

Thank you to Chris for sharing about how you made your piece with us. His exhibit will be up through February 3rd, 2013, so if you’re in London, go see it soon!

Mailbag: Hacking a Mega-Peggy

grayscale

Tony writes in with a question about hacking our DIY LED matrix kits:

“I’m building a Peggy 2LE. I have completed the wiring with the exception of the LEDs. I have constructed an external frame which has 600 mounting points for my LEDs using a Matrix design of wires crossing every 3 inches. Since the Peggy 2LE has 625 LEDs I need to know how I can drive the 30 anode connections and 20 cathode connections to the wiring them to the Peggy 2. Or am I going to have to wire each LED to the PCB of the Peggy + and – LED locations?”

And, that’s actually an interesting topic.  We’ve written before (here and here) about some giant-scale variations and modifications to our Peggy 2 and Peggy 2LE LED matrix kits, but we haven’t really addressed how one might go about building it.

First off, since you asked— and though we recommend against it —it is indeed possible to build an off-board LED matrix by simply running individual running wires from every LED location on the Peggy circuit board to every LED.  There are 625 LEDs in a 25 × 25 grid, and if each has two wires… that turns out to be quite a few wires.

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While *ahem* labor intensive, this method does work. We know this partly because several people have actually done it.  The “rats nest” of thin, red-lacquered magnet wire shown above is one example, and the Peggy shown here is another victim example of this method.

Fortunately, very fortunately, there are easier ways: think 50 wires, rather than 1250. And, there are a few other clever tricks that you might want to consider when changing the size of the matrix.  For example, it’s possible to use the Peggy 2LE to drive an off-board LED matrix of size up to 25 × 32 without adding any other extra hardware.

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Basics: Picking Resistors for LEDs

5 mm warm white diffused LED

So… you just want to light up an LED. What resistor should you use?

Maybe you know the answer, or maybe everyone already assumes that you should know how to get to the answer.  And in any case, it’s a question that tends to generate more questions before you actually can get an answer: What kind of LED are you using? What power supply? Battery? Plug-in? Part of a larger circuit? Series? Parallel?

Playing with LEDs is supposed to be fun, and figuring out the answers to these questions is actually part of the fun.  There’s a simple formula that you use for figuring it out, Ohm’s Law. That formula is V = I × R, where V is the voltage, I is the current, and R is the resistance. But how do you know what numbers to plug into that formula to get out the right resistor value?

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