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January 25, 2013

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

I’ve started to find time to start playing with the Arduino Experimentation Kit I bought myself for Christmas. So far, I’ve just embarked on the first two example circuits provided with the kit. The first one blinks an LED, the second blinks multiple LEDs in sequence. Hence the name of this post, which I’ve borrowed from the excellent Eels album.

At my son’s request, I modified the code from the second project very slightly to blink the LEDs from the middle outwards, but otherwise I followed the (very clear and straightforward) instructions to the letter.

Blinking LEDs

Nothing very exciting, I admit, but even the greatest of journeys have to start somewhere. And now that I’ve taken my first baby-step, I’ve started turning to Instructables.com for help.

Instructables robotI’m not sure how many of you are aware of this excellent site, but I’ve been blown away by the breadth and quality of content available there. Instructables became part of Autodesk about a year and a half ago, and while I fully admit to scratching my head about it at the time, I’ve really grown to appreciate both the resource itself and also the direction it’s taking the broader corporation. The Instructables team is full of passionate people who are enabling a talented community to do unbelievably cool stuff. Hats off to everyone involved. :-)

They’ve just released an iOS app that allows you to browse Instructables projects more easily. Although I will say that it would be more accurate to call it an iPhone app: it will run on an iPad, of course, but doesn’t currently directly support the form factor.

Now what I really want to do with my Arduino is to create a network-aware device of some kind: one that connects to a custom web service (say) and displays information I consider to be important – perhaps along the lines of the gadgets Ambient Devices have been making for the last decade, already. To get at this kind of data, I will clearly need to get either an Ethernet or a WiFi Arduino shield – or perhaps invest in a compatible controller with WiFi already integrated – and then look at the libraries available for accessing web services via HTTP.

Of course the information will then need to be displayed somehow… while researching this area, I came across some pretty amazing Arduino projects on Instructables that I can see would be both incredibly fun (and challenging!) to make and could very well meet this need. Imagine going beyond my very basic LED blinking to creating LED cubes of different sizes: 3x3x3, 4x4x4 or even 8x8x8.

What about using this baby as an admittedly low-resolution 3D display? Awesome.




Someone has gone and created a 16x16x16 cube with 4096 LEDs, but frankly I’d be surprised if I had the soldering skills (and the patience) to make even one of the smaller ones. Perhaps I’ll start with the 3x3x3 cube and take it from there…

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