Project – LED Cube Spectrum Analyzer

Introduction

A few weeks ago I was asked about creating a musical-effect display with an RGB LED cube kit from Freetronics, and with a little work this was certainly possible using the MSGEQ7 spectrum analyser IC. In this project we’ll create a small add-on PCB containing the spectrum analyser circuit and show how it can drive the RGB LED cube kit.

Freetronics CUBE4 RGB LED cube kit

Assumed knowledge

To save repeating myself, please familiarise yourself with the MSGEQ7 spectrum aanalyserIC in Chapter 48 of our Arduino tutorials. And learn more about the LED cube from our review and the product page.

You can get MSGEQ7 ICs from various sources, however they had varying results. We now recommend using the neat module from Tronixlabs.

The circuit

The LED cube already has an Arduino Leonardo-compatible built in to the main PCB, so all you need to do is build a small circuit that contains the spectrum analyzer which connects to the I/O pins on the cube PCB and also has audio input and output connections. First, consider the schematic:

MSGEQ7 CUBE4 spectrum analyser schematic

For the purposes of this project our spectrum analyser will only display the results from one channel of audio – if you want stereo, you’ll need two! And note that the strobe, reset and DCOUT pins on the MSGEQ7 are labelled with the connections to the cube PCB. Furthermore the pinouts for the MSGEQ7 don’t match the physical reality – here are the pinouts from the MSGEQ7 data sheet (.pdf):

MSGEQ7 pinouts

The circuit itself will be quite small and fit on a small amount of stripboard or veroboard. There is plenty of room underneath the cube to fit the circuit if so desired:

MSGEQ7 LED cube

With a few moments you should be able to trace out your circuit to match the board type you have, remember to double-check before soldering. You will also need to connect the audio in point after the 1000 pF capacitor to a source of audio, and also pass it through so you can connect powered speakers, headphones, etc.

One method of doing so would be to cut up a male-female audio extension lead, and connect the shield to the GND of the circuit, and the signal line to the audio input on the circuit. Or if you have the parts handy and some shielded cable, just make your own input and output leads:

MSGEQ7 input output leads

Be sure to test for shorts between the signal and shield before soldering to the circuit board. When finished, you should have something neat that you can hide under the cube or elsewhere:

MSGEQ7 RGB cube LED spectrum analyzer board

Double-check your soldering for shorts and your board plan, then fit to the cube along with the audio source and speakers (etc).

Arduino Sketch

The sketch has two main functions – the first is to capture the levels from the MSGEQ7 and put the values for each frequency band into an array, and the second function is to turn on LEDs that represent the level for each band. If you’ve been paying attention you may be wondering how we can represent seven frequency bands with a 4x4x4 LED cube. Simple – by rotating the cube 45 degrees you can see seven vertical columns of LEDs:

MSGEQ7 LED cube spectrum analyzer columns

So when looking from the angle as shown above, you have seven vertical columns, each with four levels of LEDs. Thus the strength of each frequency can be broken down into four levels, and then the appropriate LEDs turned on.

After this is done for each band, all the LEDs are turned off and the process repeats. For the sake of simplicity I’ve used the cube’s Arduino library to activate the LEDs, which also makes the sketch easier to fathom. The first example sketch only uses one colour:

… and a quick video demonstration:

For a second example, we’ve used various colours:

… and the second video demonstration:

A little bit of noise comes through into the spectrum analyser, most likely due to the fact that the entire thing is unshielded. The previous prototype used the Arduino shield from the tutorial which didn’t have this problem, so if you’re keen perhaps make your own custom PCB for this project.

visit tronixlabs.com

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in analyzer, arduino, com-10468, cube, freetronics, LED, MSGEQ7, projects, rgb, RGB LED, spectrum, tronixlabs, tronixstuff, tutorial

Kit review – the Freetronics CUBE4: RGB LED Cube

Introduction

LED cubes are a fascinating item, no matter where you come from the allure of blinking LEDs in various patterns is always attractive. And making your own is a fun challenge that most people can do after some experience with electronics hardware. However most people use single-colour LEDs, as wiring up RGB units triples the complexity of the circuit. Until now.

After much anticipation Freetronics have released their CUBE4 RGB LED cube kit – a simple to assemble and completely-customisable RGB LED cube:

cube4off

Unlike other cubes on the market, this one includes an on-board ATmega32u4 microcontroller with Arduino Leonardo-compatible bootloader and a microUSB socket (… and a lot more) – so you don’t need anything extra to get started. And this gives you many more options when you’re ready to expand. But first let’s put it together and then get it working. Furthermore, keep reading to find out how you can have a chance to win your own Cube4.

Assembly

Inside the box are all the parts needed for the kit, even a microUSB cable to power the Cube4 and also communicate with it:

parts

There’s 64 RGB LEDs in that bag, so get ready for some soldering. The base PCB is well laid out, labelled and gives you an idea for the expansion possibilities:

PCBtop

Plenty of room to add your own circuitry – and the bottom:

PCBbottom

As you can see in the image above, there’s an XBee-compatible pinout if you want to add communication via wirless serial link, plenty of prototyping space for your own additions and many other ports are brought out to open pads. There’s even a 5V supply pair to test LEDs, and a blue “power on” LED (which can be deactivated if necessary by cutting a track on the PCB).

The first job is to mount the LEDs on their plane PCBs – there are four, one for each horizontal plant. It’s very important to get the LEDs in the right way round, and there’s markers on the PCB that you can match up the longest leg of the LED with:

LEDinsertdirection

From experience I found it best to insert all the LEDs:

LEDsinserted

…and then do a final mass check of the alignment – which is easy if you hold the plane up to one side and compare the legs, for example:

checkLEDdirection

At this stage it’s a great idea to double-check your LED alignment. After a while you’ll have the LEDs soldered in and trimmed nicely:

LEDssoldered

The next step was getting the vertical sticks aligned in order to hold the LED planes (above). Each stick is for a particular spot on the PCB so check the label on the stick matches the hole on the PCB. It’s incredibly important to make sure you have them perfectly perpendicular to the PCB, so find something like a square-edge or card to help out:

alignstick

Once you have a row of sticks in you can start with a plane then insert a stick on the other side, for example:

firstplanerubberband

Note the use of the elastic band to hold things together – they really help. Then it’s a simple matter of adding the planes and holding it together with another band:

fourplanespresolder

… at which point you can do a final check that all the planes and sticks are inserted correctly. Then solder all the copper spots together and you’re done.

Don’t forget to turn the cube upside-down as there’s soldering to be done on the bottom of the planes as well:

solderupsidedownaswell

 Although it might look a little scary, the final assembly isn’t that difficult – just take your time so it’s right the first time. You can view the following video which describes the entire process:

Once you’re confident that all the soldering has been completed – double-check for joints that aren’t completely bridged with solder as they will affect the operation of the cube. Then you can plug in the USB cable and watch the preloaded test/demonstration sketch in action:

If all your LEDs are working, awesome. If not – check the soldering. If there’s still some rogues – check your individual LEDs. Some of you are probably thinking “well that isn’t too colourful” – the problem is the camera, not the Cube4. If you see it in real life, it’s much better.

Operation

There are two methods of controlling the Cube4. It is delivered with a preloaded sketch that runs the demonstration showed in the video above, and then accepts commands over a serial/USB connection. So you can simply plug it in, fire up a terminal program (or the Arduino IDE serial monitor) and send text commands to do various things. If you type “help ;” the syntax is returned which explains how you can do things:

helpscreen

This serial control mode allows control by any type of software that can write to a serial port. Furthermore any other external hardware that can create or introduce serial text can also control the Cube4. For example by mounting an XBee module underneath and linking it to the TX/RX lines gives you a wireless Cube4. By doing so you can control it with a Raspberry Pi or other system.

Furthermore the Cube4 is also an Arduino Leonardo-compatible board in the same way as a Freetronics LeoStick.  With the use of the Cube4 Arduino library you can then create your own sketches which can visualise data with very simple to use functions for the Cube4. There are some great example sketches with the library for some inspiration and fun. Over time I look forward to using the Cube4 in various ways, including adding an Electric Imp IoT device and making another clock (!).

More demonstrations

Check out this Argot IoT demonstration.

Conclusion

This is the most approachable RGB LED cube kit on the market, and also the easiest to use. You don’t need to understand programming to try it out – and if you do it’s incredibly versatile. A lot of work has gone into the library, API and hardware design so you’ve got an expandable tool and not just some blinking LEDs. For more information visit the Freetronics website.  Larger photos available on flickr. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

LEDborder

The CUBE4 in this review is a promotional consideration from Freetronics. In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, argot, cube, freetronics, jaycar, kit review, LED, leonardo, leostick, rgb, XC4274

Kit Review – akafugu TWILCD Display Controller Backpacks

Introduction

Working with LCD displays is always useful, for debugging hardware by showing various data or part of a final design. Furthermore, using them can be rather wasteful of I/O pins, especially when trying to squeeze in other functionality. Plus there’s the external contrast adjustment, general wiring and the time taken to get it working. (Don’t believe me? See here).

However, using the subjects of this kit review – you can convert standard HD44780 LCD modules to use the I2C bus using a small backpack-style board – bringing total I/O down to four wires – 5V/3.3V, GND, SDA and SCL. If you’re using an Arduino – don’t panic if you’re not up on I2C – a software library takes care of the translation leaving you to use the LiquidCrystal functions as normal. Furthermore you can control the brightness and contrast (and colour for RGB modules) – this feature alone is just magic and will make building these features into projects much, much easier.

In this review we examine both of the backpacks available from akafugu. There are two available:

  • the TWILCD: Supports 1×16 and 2×7 connectors. It covers 16×1, 20×1, 16×2, 20×2 and 20×4 displays with and without backlight, and the
  • TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB: Supports 1×18 connector (for Newhaven RGB backlit displays), 2×8 connector (used for some 20×4 displays) and 2×9 connector (used for 40×4 displays)
If unsure about your LCD, see the list and explanation here. The LCDs used in this article were supplied with the mono and colour LCD bundles available from akafugu. So let’s see how easy they really are, and put them through their paces.

Assembly

The backpacks arrive in the usual anti-static bags:

First we’ll examine the TWILCD board:

Very small indeed. There are three distinct areas of interface – including the single horizontal or dual vertical connectors for various LCDs, and I2C bus lines as well as ICSP connectors for the onboard ATTINY4313 microcontroller. The firmware can be updated and is available on the akafugu github repository. If you look at the horizontal row along the top – there are eighteen holes. This allows for displays that have pins ordered 1~16 and also those with 15,16,1~16 order (15 and 16 are for the LCD backlight).

The next step is to solder in the connectors for power and I2C if so desired, and then the LCD to the backpack. Double-check that you have the pin numbering and alignment correct before soldering, for example:

and then you’re finished:

Simple. Now apply power and after a moment the the backpack firmware will display the I2C bus address:

Success! Now let’s repeat this with the TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB version. The backpack itself is still quite small:

… and has various pin alignments for different types of LCD module. Note the extra pins allowing use of RGB-backlit modules and 40×4 character modules. Again,  make sure you have the pins lined up against your LCD module before soldering the backpack in:

 Notice how the I2C connector is between the LCD and the backpack – there is enough space for it to sit in there, and also acts as a perfect spacer when soldering the backpack to the display module.  Once finished soldering, apply 5/3.3V and GND to check your display:

Using the TWILCDs

Using the backpacks is very easy. If you aren’t using an Arduino, libraries for AVR-GCC are available. If you are using the Arduino system, it is very simple. Just download and install the library from here. Don’t forget to connect the SDA and SCL connectors to your Arduino. If you’re unsure about LCD and Arduino – see here.

Programming for the TWILCD is dead simple – just use your existing Arduino sketch, but replace

with

and that’s it. Even creating custom characters. No new functions to learn or tricks to take note of – they just work. Total win. The only new functions you will need are to control the brightness and contrast… to set the brightness, use:

You can also set the brightness level to EEPROM as a default using:

Contrast is equally simple, using:


and

You can see these in action using the example sketches with the Arduino library, and in the following video:

Now for the TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB version. You have one more function to set the colour of the text:

where red, green and blue are values between 0 and 254. Easily done. You can see this in action using the test_RGB example sketch included with the library, and shown in the following video:

Conclusion

The TWILCD backpacks are simple, easy to setup and easy to use. They make using LCD displays a lot easier and faster for rapid prototyping, experimenting or making final products easier to use and program. A well-deserved addition to every experimenter’s toolkit. For more information, visit the akafugu product website. Full-size images available on flickr.

Note – the products used in this article were a promotional consideration from akafugu.jp, however the opinions stated are purely my own.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Translated version in Serbo-Croatian language.

Posted in akafugu, arduino, clocks, I2C, kit review, LCD, part review, rgb0 Comments

Moving Forward with Arduino – Chapter 18 – RGB LED Matrix

Use an RGB LED matrix with Arduino in chapter 18  of a series originally titled “Getting Started with Arduino!” by John Boxall – A tutorial on the Arduino universe. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.

[Updated 09/01/2013]

In this instalment we will take a turn away from the serious things for a while, (plus I wanted a bit of a break) and instead enjoy some introductory fun with common-cathode RGB LED matrices. (Matrices is the plural form of matrix). I am sure some of you have seen these do all sorts of things, so now it is time for me to learn about them and share this with you.

topss

Quite large – 60 by 60 mm. Thankfully this unit has the diffused/opaque LED surfaces – some cheaper ones have clear surfaces which don’ t look that good – it is like looking directly at an incandescent light globe, you can see the element more than the colour it emits. When you turn the matrix over, there are less pins than a newcomer may expect:

bottomss

Two rows of sixteen pins. Considering there is so much real-estate on the bottom, one would think the manufacturer could print some markings on there – but they don’t. So you need the (example) data sheet.pdf. The three most important things we need to know are:

  • the forward voltages: red – 2 V, green and blue – 3.3;
  • the current at the recommended forward voltage – 20 milliamps;
  • and the pinouts:

pinouts

It looks like a mess but isn’t that hard to work out. Do you remember how we used the 8×8 red LED matrix back in chapter nine? We will work on the same style of design in this chapter as well. I do realise there are chips from TI, Maxim and so on that are quite tricky – but I am trying to keep the cost down, of which I am sure you would appreciate. So instead we will use four 74HC595 shift registers (one to control the anodes of each colour, and one to control the cathodes via a bank of switching transistors.

To get this started, first let’s get the hardware out of the way. To fire this baby up we will need:

  • an Arduino Uno or 100% compatible board;
  • a common-cathode RGB LED matrix;
  • 24 x 560 ohm resistors (this value may seem like a bit much – but the display was still very bright)
  • 8 x 1 kilo ohm resistors (for transistors)
  • 8 x BC548 transistors
  • 4 x 74HC595 shift registers (IC1~4)
  • 1 x 1uF 16V (or higher) electrolytic capacitor
  • 1 x 0.1 uF 16V (or higher) ceramic capacitor
  • a nice large breadboard
  • plenty of connecting wire

Initially I was concerned about the amount of current this circuit would draw, however it was not to be an issue. With all the LEDs on, using the 560 ohm current-limiting resistors, the drain was much less than expected. To check, I powered the lot from a 9V PP3 battery and measured the current flow. 135 milliamps, not bad at all.

exam18p1current

It just occurred to me that if you had an Arduino Mega-compatible board – it could directly take care of everything instead of using three of the shift registers. So here is our schematic:

schematicss2

In the schematic above, there are eight transistor-resistor combinations between the cathodes of the matrix (pins 25, 24, 23, 10, 9, 8, 7 and IC4. And there are 560 ohm resistors on all output pins of ICs 1~3.  Furthermore,  note that your LED matrix’s pinouts may vary – so please check your data sheet before wiring it all up… having to retrace all those wires once they’re in is a real problem. As you can see from the resulting breadboard photo:

boardss

Now how does all this work?

Quite easily really, the hardest part is putting the hardware together. First of all, please review how we used shift registers in chapter four. And, you may recall how we used two 74HC595 shift registers to control an 8×8 red LED matrix back in chapter nine. This is just the same type of set up, but with two more shift registers – now we have one for the cathodes (as we did before), and one shift register each for the red, green and blue LEDs.

Instead of sending out two bytes of data using shiftOut();, we need to send out four bytes. For example, to turn on every LED at once (thereby mixing red, green and blue – producing white) we would create a function such as:

So as you can see, the first byte out the door is the data for the cathodes, in this case 255 – which is 11111111 in binary, or in 74HC595-speak “hey, turn on all outputs”. And the same again in turn for each bank of colours, the other three registers are told to open all gates and let current flow through the LEDs to the common-cathode lines controlled by IC4. So naturally, using some binary to base-10 conversion you can set which LEDs to come on and where. And of course, by mixing the primary colours – you can create new ones. For example, the additive colour chart gives us:

So now you can create yellow with red and green; red and blue makes purple; green and blue makes aqua or teal, etc. However I am colour blind, so you tell me. This time we will view the demonstration video first:

Download the matching sketchNow to examine how each of the effects were created, so you can understand,  use and modify them yourself.

The basic operations are contained in these four lines:

So all you need to do is replace r, b, g and c with the base-10 values you want. For example, to light up the red LED in position 1, 1 – use 1, 0, 0, 1. Or if you want the whole first line to be green, use: 255, 0, 0, 1. After a few moments you should become proficient at converting binary to base-10. This chart from chapter four should help you:

binary2

Remember that you can also create patterns and so on. For example, if you only wanted LEDs 1 and 8 for your x-axis, you would add 1 and 128 together, and use the sum (129) for your x-value. To save some time, I have created a few functions for you to use. For example:

So instead of having to manually repeat a lot of code, you can just insert the values into displayLEDs();. Another handy thing to know about is looping. When looking at the matrix it is easy to accidentally think “Oh, I can just loop from 1 to 8″… No. Remember your binary to base-10 conversions. So if you wanted to scroll a horizontal line of red LEDs your cathode or y-axis value must increment as such: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128. Every time the loop cycles, it needs to double the value. To do this, consider:

Notice the q*=2? This will multiply the value of q by 2 every loop. Very useful. Another method would be to create an array, as such:

and refer to the elements as required. This is done within the function lostinspace(); within example 18.1.

The next thing to take into account is the screen refresh. Every time you send four bytes of data through the shift registers, those new bytes will ‘shift’ the old bytes out of the way. So if you want to alter the display even by just one LED, you need to redraw the entire display over again with four new bytes of data. Also note that to ‘hold’ an image on the display, you only need to send the data once – the shift registers will stay put until the next four bytes of data come along.

And sometimes, you might just want to turn off the display. Just send four zeros down to the registers, as the function clearMatrix(); does in the example sketch.

For now, please review the various functions found in example 18.1 – alter them, mess about and have some fun. Thus concludes our introduction to RGB LED matrices.

LEDborder

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, COM-00683, education, learning electronics, LED, lesson, matrix, microcontrollers, rgb, tutorial2 Comments


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