Explorations into creating lamps with flexible light-emitting surfaces

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Flexible light-emitting materials can transform what we think of as a light source for the home or office. Let's experiment with different surface shapes and LEDs to see what kind of lamps can be built.

Throughout I will keep manufacturability in mind, with an Ikea-inspried eye towards a small amount of final customer assembly.

Part of the SupplyFrame Design Lab residency #0x02


Or.... "Welcome to the spaceship. We are happy to see you!"

  • Lamp prototype #2: "archMetal1"

    todbot03/18/2017 at 01:27 0 comments

    This last week has been spent getting more up to speed tools like the ShopBot and designing lamps that can be accomplished using tools available in the Design Lab. This next design prototype is called "archMetal1".

    This design is a better platform than the first lamp for testing flexible but structured diffusion materials (plastic PP & PET sheets, maybe velum, but not cloth or plexiglass). The design consists of a main metal arch embedded in wood, with the LEDs attached on the inner side of the arch. The diffusion material attaches with standoffs from either the centerline or edges of the metal bar, like this:

    Can we prototype this up in a few days? The design specifies a 4"-wide bar of aluminum at 1/8" thick and 48" long, sunk into a 9"x5"x2" wood block. All I had was 2" x 1/8" x 48" aluminum bar. This should still be wide enough to demonstrate the design and for future diffusion experiments.

    That width turned out for the best given that the Design Lab doesn't yet have the metalworking tools needed and I don't have full command of the ShopBot yet to make my own tools. I think this bender might work for me in the future. For this prototype, I faked up a few metal benders using scrap wood, based on what I've seen on Youtube, particularly this video:

    These benders worked up to 120º bends but I did end up manhandling it quite a bit to get it into the shape I wanted. And even then it's not very even due to the lack of precise tooling. Oh well, this is a prototype after all. After a small amount of sanding, the U-shaped bar was mounted to a block of solid wood.

    The next step was laying out the LEDs and wiring them up. The original design calls for four LED strips arranged as two pairs, with space in between and on the sides. With the smaller 2" bar I reduced the number of strips to two so I could have the spacing I wanted for diffusion standoffs. To help with wiring, I quickly made a special NeoJoint splitter in Eagle to accommodate the spacing. After a 2-minute milling on the Othermill I had it and It works great. And it looks pretty neat:

    I also made an updated version of the rotary encoder test board. It's lower profile and features a separate DC power input for easier stand-alone operation. It also swaps top & bottom copper layer because on the Othermill, it's faster to mill top copper (saves a button press). In the image below, original test board is on top, the updated one is below it.

    I milled up one of these on the Othermill, populated it, tested and mounted it.

    All that's left is to upload a test sketch to the Arduino Pro Micro that's driving the lamp and power it up. This is the result.

    It turned out okay. With dynamic patterns on it, it really comes to life.

    Here it is in size compared to lamp 1. About the same height but much more stable.

    Next steps:

    • Gain control over ShopBot to try out some wood-based ideas
    • Mod this lamp to add diffusers

  • Week 1: first lamp idea done (mostly)

    todbot03/09/2017 at 23:36 1 comment

    After having this idea so many years ago, I finally have a desktop-sized extant version of it. It's pretty cool.

    It's made from cheap aluminum extrusion, a chunk of waste walnut, WWA LEDs strip, and my rotary encoder test board. It has several issues but the form exists and I can use it as a platform to bounce future ideas off of. And now I can finally put this idea to bed after having it rattle around in my head for so long.

    This prototype uses two strips in parallel, so I needed to wire a cable to two strips. If you've ever soldered up stuff before, then you know wiring to *three* things is frustrating. But since we had an Othermill in the house, I spent 10 minutes designing a custom NeoJoints splitter and cut several out. The resulting solder up was super easy.

    To form the arc, I used an existing MDF form that was laying around the Lab. While its radius was too small, it was actually good to use since the aluminum bar springs back after forming.

    Next week: a different design and diffuser explorations

  • Knobs On

    todbot03/09/2017 at 03:25 0 comments

    Here's a quick video of the rotary encoder test board with 3d printed knobs.

    These knobs & encoders suck for the lamp UI, but at least it gives me three independent axes of control to experiment with.

  • Another input option: DIY rotary encoders

    todbot03/07/2017 at 06:48 4 comments

    Rotary encoders today mostly suck.

    The "infinite turning" knobs you see on some products today are rotary encoders. The common commercially-available ones use mechanical wipers to sense rotation and have a low number of PPR (pulses per revolution, a measure of rotation) of 12-24. To me this is sad: it means your angular resolution is only around 15 degrees (360/24) and the friction from the mechanical wipers means you can't "spin the knob". These rotary encoders are ubiquitous though because they're so cheap: < $1.00 in single quantity.

    One alternative to these is optical rotary encoders. They use LEDs & phototransistors instead of mechanical wipers to sense rotation. Unfortunately, they're almost 10x expense. These were the kind I used when I was a tiny EE and they were awesome.

    Several years ago (2008!), I built a set of three HUGE optical rotary encoders out of standard optical interrupter modules, rollerskate bearings, and PVC pipe caps. The resulting knobs were 4" in diameter and you could get them spinning for over a minute.

    So I may experiment with making a few subtler, smaller versions of this idea

  • github & encoder tester

    todbot03/06/2017 at 23:34 0 comments

    I worked up a quick and simple rotary encoder tester board. It may be that a good UI for the lamp is a couple of rotary encoders. Here's a quick board that is millable on the Othermill and mounts 3 standard PCB-mount rotary encoders, an Arduino Pro MIcro, and has two different LED strip outputs.

    Time to start milling, then back to materials tests.

    Also, I'm putting everything that is code & schematics in this repo:

    I'm still not sure how to properly share Fusion360 models (The Autodesk A360 is much better than either or Github, but it's really closed off), but I'll try to put models in the github repo too.

  • First day: Start!

    todbot03/02/2017 at 00:49 0 comments

    Today is the first day of my SupplyFrame Design Lab residency.

    In preparation, I've spent the last month getting up to speed on Fusion 360 and sketching out some (bad) ideas.

    Here are some renders of those ideas. None of these are what I want. They are about playing with Fusion, thinking about designs I can make easily on a laser cutter or Shopbot, and experimenting with the "emissive" material type when rendering to get a baseline for how 3d renders match reality.

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Enjoy this project?



lomhow1234 wrote 03/14/2017 at 18:53 point

dude, i love lamp too xd

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Benchoff wrote 03/11/2017 at 02:01 point

Are you just looking at things in the design lab and saying you love them?

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michael.biggs.home wrote 03/11/2017 at 01:40 point

Hi Todd, are you familiar with the magnetic angle sensor chips? Those can be used to make a very high resolution rotary encoder. Not as cheap as the mechanical versions, but reasonable.

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todbot wrote 03/11/2017 at 03:22 point

Hi Michael,

I've been looking into them now after having discounted them for only being for motor speed uses. If you have a chip / dev board / eval kit recommendation, I'd love to check it out. Thanks!

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michael.biggs.home wrote 03/11/2017 at 07:42 point

I haven't used one, but what I've seen is made by AMS, e.g. AS5030 8-bit resolution for $6.66 at DigiKey. You just put a little rotating bar magnet above the chip.

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Jegan.J wrote 03/08/2017 at 10:17 point

Hi,can i able to connect 43 inches LED TV(1920*1080) to FleaFPGA Uno Board, and can i able to the sensor data display to the big LED TV

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todbot wrote 03/10/2017 at 03:17 point

Hi @Jegan.J, this is not the appropriate forum for this question. You should try the HackChat:

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Jegan.J wrote 03/08/2017 at 10:15 point


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todbot wrote 03/06/2017 at 23:28 point

Hi @zakqwy,  That sounds like a really cool product.  And thanks that's very generous. I think I can get the Design Lab to order some for their stock. Do you have a link I can send them?

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zakqwy wrote 03/07/2017 at 00:09 point

I picked up the 5500K high-CRI stuff (p/n RF5500K-96), it's $137 for an 8x11" sheet.

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zakqwy wrote 03/03/2017 at 16:04 point

I picked up an 8.5x11" sheet of PhosphorTech remote LED phosphor material a few years ago with no specific project in mind. It's not cheap and I'd be happy to donate a bit to this project if it helps your exploration. Shine blue light at it and it emits white, in a quite satisfying and diffuse manner. 

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todbot wrote 03/07/2017 at 19:11 point

Neat, thanks! wow that stuff *is* expensive.  I'll think about how I can use it. I'm not sure yet how I could use a phosphorescent material but wow that stuff looks cool.

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zakqwy wrote 03/07/2017 at 19:32 point

Yeah, it's intended to be used in tiny quantities for white LEDs. I've found it produces an excellent surface emitting/diffusing effect when paired with bright blue LEDs. 

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Simon Merrett wrote 03/09/2017 at 12:50 point

I've been wanting to make a lamp by shining 405nm laser at phosphorescent surfaces because you could use transparent mounts and make the lights appear to be wireless.

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