Tag Archives: octolively

Stealth Fighter Guitar with Octolively Lighting Effects

Stealth plane guitar with octolively lighting

Herb wrote in to say:

When I saw your Octolively LED circuit, the first thing I wanted to do was incorporate it into our electric guitar project.

I teach a basic senior physics class for non-science majors and wanted to try something different; a year-long design project.

We made a guitar from scratch that resembles a stealth fighter. We even wound the humbucker coils in the guitar… Your circuit is used to drive the exhaust lights in response to playing motion…It works well and offers a unique visual effect based on the selected setting…you can even hear the circuit through the amplifier when it drives the blue LEDs…

The Octolively is wired up with the LEDs pointing down from the bottom of the guitar (back of the plane) and the sensors pointing toward the neck to respond the motion of the guitar player.

Stealth Octolively guitar in progress

His student, David, added:

Thank you for making such a great educational product to learn about LED’s and simple circuits. Our class worked together to put all of the parts in the correct place and it was a wonderful collaborative learning project.

Octolively assembly for incorporation into guitar

Interactive art at Helix

Romy Randev of Looma is installing his latest piece, Penumbra at the Helix museum in Los Altos.

Penumbra is an interactive installation that responds to movement in its environment. Without any human interaction, Penumbra is disguised as a decorative glass wall. However, each colored glass tile illuminates individually as sensors that respond to movements control LEDs behind the glass.

Penumbra makes use of our Octolively modules, and we’ll be at Helix with Romy on Saturday March 29th, starting at 2:00 PM to talk about the art and tech behind Penumbra. Event information is available from Helix.

Field Trips: Atmel Headquarters


Super Awesome Sylvia and I were invited to attend Bring Your Kids to Work Day at Atmel recently. (Atmel, of course, is the company that makes the microcontrollers found inside Arduino products and in many of our own projects and kits.) We were there to help provide tangible, interesting, and playful examples of how Atmel chips can be used. And of course, we weren’t going to miss an opportunity to visit Atmel headquarters!

Photo courtesy of Atmel

The biggest hit with the kids were the Octolively interactive LED modules (sporting the Atmel ATmega164P). When the kids waved their hands over them, the LEDs would light up and ripple. Some of the kids would start out by poking and grabbing at the LEDs until they lit up, but as soon as I told them it would work “even without touching it” their eyes would get big, and they’d wave their hands over the top, enthralled.

Some of the other things we brought were our handheld game, the Meggy Jr RGB (with the ATmega328P); a Bulbdial Clock (Atmega328P again), which points rings of LEDs at different heights down at a central point to create shadow hands of different lengths; our giant Alpha Clock Five (ATMega644A); and the Larson Scanner (ATtiny2313A), which lights up nine red LEDs to make a scanning robot eye.

Photo courtesy of Atmel

Another project that captured the kids’ attention was a Keepon by BeatBots. Other demonstrations included a quadcopter and a hacked hexabot.

Photo courtesy of Atmel

We got to have lunch in the bright sun in the courtyard with Avary Kent, who was demonstrating the PuzzleBox, a brain-controlled helicopter.

Photo courtesy of Atmel

Sylvia got to give the PuzzleBox a try, triggering it to fly as soon as she concentrated hard enough.


After lunch, we got to tour of a couple of labs. This workbench was well stocked with a Metcal soldering iron (our favorite) and lots of tools and supplies.


Apparently the poor Pleo on this bench needed some repair.

Chip testing machine

This machine is for inspecting and testing chips after they have been removed from their housing.

We got to go into the RF anechoic chamber, and watch as our cell phones stopped receiving any signals.

Horsing around

We also had some time to hang out and horse around with friends new and old. Our friend Paul Rako seemed to be having as much fun as the kids.

Photo courtesy of Atmel

Thanks to Paul and Atmel for inviting us to visit!

Father’s Day Gift Guide

In anticipation of the upcoming father’s day holiday, we’ve put together a little gift guide with selections from our store. We’re also putting all of these items on sale now through June 12: just enter coupon code “VADER” in the shopping cart to receive 10% off.


First up is the Digi-Comp II, First Edition. It’s perfect for teaching the basics of binary math to kids and parents alike.


The Alpha Clock Five kit, in original Red Edition, the gleaming White Edition, or the brand-new Blue Edition, is the perfect clock for the discerning hobbyist. It’s eminently hackable and full-featured, with digits big enough to see across even the largest of garages or just next to the bed before you put your glasses on.


For someone expanding their electronic horizons, or working a ton of projects at once, our Diavolino Starter Packs, and AVR Starter Packs will keep them happily busy.

Our Octolively Modules would make an excellent addition to a furniture or remodeling project.

The Art Controller is a modern take on an old classic, perfect for someone with plenty of project ideas who just needs an occasional trigger.

Tools are always a great gift choice, and anyone would be proud to own our ESD-Safe Screwdriver Sets. Another great workbench addition would be our Standard LED Assortment.

Original Egg-Bot with Ostrich Egg-Bot

The Egg-Bot started out as a way for one father used to show his family how cool it could be to play with stepper motors. Both The Original Egg-Bot Kit and the Ostrich Egg-bot are on sale.

The father’s day sale runs through June 12: enter coupon code “VADER” in the shopping cart to receive 10% off these items.

Happy Father’s Day!

Prefabricated Octolively Modules

Octolively Modules

Last year we released Octolively, an open source interactive LED kit, designed to respond in gentle and complex ways to stimulus provided by human interaction.

While Octolively has been a success (and a lot of fun), thus far it has only been available as a soldering kit. Today, we’re pleased to supplement those with a new version: prefabricated Octolively modules, all built-up and ready-to-use, so you can jump right in and start playing with the LEDs.


Octolively Modules

Like the soldering kit version, each “prefab” Octolively module is 4 × 8 inches (10.16 × 20.32 cm) in size, and features eight huge (10 mm) ultrabright LEDs, spaced along a two-inch grid.  And, for every LED, there is an independent infrared proximity sensor pair, configured to act as a reflective motion sensor.
Octolively Modules

The most obvious change from the soldering kit version of Octolively is that the topside components take up a lot less space. All of the resistors, capacitors, and the microcontroller have been replaced by their surface mount equivalents.


Octolively Modules

However, this not really a “surface mount” circuit board, it’s more accurately a “mixed technology” board.   Some of the components— in particular many “optoelectronic” components, like our visible and infrared LEDs —just don’t have great surface mount versions.  For example, when we’ve tried building motion sensors circuits with SMT infrared LEDs (even the pricier types that have itty-bitty lenses) we found that they just didn’t project enough IR light to be effective. Similarly, we’ve found that visible surface mount LEDs tend to be perceived as dim, even when a huge amount of light is being emitted, because the light usually goes into a very wide angle.


Octolively Modules

The microcontroller is an Atmel ATmega164A, in the 44-pin TQFP package.  (And in case you’re wondering, yes that’s exactly as redundant as “ATM machine.” )

Those white gumdrop-looking things are (as before) the big 10 mm LEDs, but they certainly seem even bigger sitting next to that chip.


Octolively Modules

Ready-to-use Octolively modules are available now at Evil Mad Science.

Additional details— including the datasheet and documentation links —are available on the product page.

Interactive Game of Life Kit

Game of Life 6

Game of Life 4

Game of Life 12

Two years ago we designed an interactive exhibit of Conway’s Game of Life for the San Jose Museum of Art. The hardware that we used for that project eventually became the basis for our Octolively interactive LED kits.

We’ve recently had occasion to revisit our Game of Life project, and to build an all-new version of the museum exhibit. Along the way, we’ve rewritten the firmware from scratch and added a number of features. And today we’re pleased to announce the result: our new Interactive Game of Life Kit.

Continue reading Interactive Game of Life Kit

Evil Mad Science Kits on Make: Live!

The most recent episode of Make: Live was a special episode on kits to celebrate the upcoming release of the Make: Special Issue, The Ultimate Kit Guide. Our very own Octolively and Meggy Jr RGB kits were both featured on the show. The electronic kits clip is embedded above, or you can watch the full video and the rest of the clips, including siege & ballistic kits and crafty kits on the Ultimate Kit Episode post over at Make.

Octolively: Digital interactive LED surfaces

Octolively Array: 8 inches wide

Octolively is an all-new, open source interactive LED surface kit that we’re releasing today. Octolively features high resolution– an independent motion sensor for every LED, stand-alone operation, a variety of response functions, and easy scaling for large grids.

Warm white (left), Regular "cool" white (right)

Octolively represents our fourth generation of interactive LED surfaces.

Long-time readers might recall the original Interactive LED Dining Table, the infamous Interactive LED Coffee Tables, or the third-generation, not-very-creatively-named Interactive LED Panels. All of these surfaces were based on fully-analog circuitry with large circuit boards and a fairly high ratio of LEDs to sensors– typically 20:1.

Octolively: single unit, powered down-2

Octolively, by contrast, is based on smaller, lower-cost circuit board modules, “only” 4×8 inches in size. Part of the reason for this is so that there’s more flexibility in making arbitrarily shaped arrays. Arrays can now be as skinny as 4″ wide, or as wide as you like.

Each module features 8 LEDs and 8 independent proximity sensors– one for each and every LED. The LEDs are (huge) 10 mm types, and that chip in the middle of the board is an (also huge) ATmega164 microcontroller.
Each sensor consists of an infrared LED and phototransistor pair, which– together with polling and readout from the microcontroller –acts as reflective motion sensor. The LEDs are spaced on a 2-inch grid, and the edge connectors allow boards to be tiled seamlessly.

Because the circuit is now primarily digital, it’s easy to store a variety of response functions in the microcontroller. Our standard firmware contains 8 different response functions– fades, ripples, shadows and sparkles, which you can change with a button press. As it’s an open source project, we’ll expect that (in time), others will become available as well.

Octolively: 3x3 grid of boards

And, because the entire circuit is self-contained on the module, the surface scales effortlessly– you get very high resolution over huge areas without bandwidth bottlenecks, and no need for a central computer.

Of course, static pictures don’t do much justice for interactive LED surfaces. (We’ve embedded our video above. If you can’t see it here, click through to YouTube.)

Octolively, warm white LEDs

And doesn’t that look good with warm white LEDs?

Octolively begins shipping next week. Additional details– including the datasheet and documentation links –are available on the product page.