About this project
Do you enjoy soldering and coding? Here's a pair of fun little Christmas trees solder kits that I have designed using "RGB" LEDs. After soldering, you can connect them to a Raspberry Pi, micro:bit or Codebug and program to flash festive light patterns to your heart's desire! The micro:bit / Codebug version even has a small piezo sounder which you can use to play tunes to accompany your light show.
The tree uses "smart" LEDs which each contain their own Red, Green and Blue LEDs so you can mix the lights to produce any colour you like.
How do I program my Raspberry Pi / micro:bit / Codebug?
Programming is easy: the Codebug and micro:bit can be programmed using a super-simple "blocks" language. The micro:bit can also be programmed using Python, as can the Raspberry Pi. As the project proceeds, I'll post updates with some example code.
How do I connect the tree to my Pi / micro:bit / Codebug?
The Rapsberry Pi version has a header that connects to pins 1 to 12 of the GPIO pins. The Codebug and micro:bit version has four connection points to allow it to be connected with crocodile clip leads. Here is the tree connected to the Raspberry Pi:
Is the tree tricky to solder?
Not especially but each of the LEDs has four legs which are a little close together. It might be a good idea to have an experienced solderer supervising in case it gets a little tricky. Here is a close-up of the board which shows the LED legs:
What LEDs does this tree use?
The final version of the tree will use either PL9823 or APA106 LEDs, both of which are very similar in functionality to the WS2812b LEDs except that they come in hobbyist-friendly through-hole packages! There is one other key difference: the Red and Green components are swapped compared to the WS2812b so you just need to bear that in mind when writing your code.
Tell me about the piezo sounder.
The piezo sounder on the micro:bit version lets you produce sounds to go along with your LED display. However, this is just a bit of fun and the sound produced by a piezo sounder is of, shall we say, limited audio quality and volume. Think cheapo-novelty-birthday-card rather than top quality hifi system!
Is the design finalised?
I have been through quite a few tree designs to get to this stage and the prototypes you see pictured here are fully functional ones. I have now distributed some kits to a few friendly testers for feedback. However, there are a few small tweaks that I would like to make to the PCB design to make it fractionally easier to solder. Also, I am experimenting with different piezo sounders (which is why one of the photos shows a missing capacitor for the micro:bit version).
On the software side, I have code examples that work on all three platforms and will be producing more examples in the future, possibly with the help of some backers and supporters. In particular, the Raspberry Pi documentation could do with some work and I may be asking for some volunteers to help here!
Can the tree be used with any other devices?
Although I haven't tested it, it should be possible to get the croc-clip version of the working with the Crumble controller, Arduino and other devices that support WS2812b LEDs.
A word of warning about these LEDs...
...they can be exceptionally bright! Please don't run them at full brightness and look directly at them.
Why is delivery to the UK only?
From running previous Kickstarters, I know that the logistics can get a bit tricky and I'm trying to keep this as simple as possible for me in the run-up to Christmas! However, I am in negotiations with a retailer who, if the Kickstarter is successful, should be able to supply to overseas Pi/micro:bit/Codebug fans.
Any other questions?
If so, please do get in touch!
Thanks so much for reading this far...
...I do hope you like the tree! Let me end by thanking some people who have provided much welcome support and encouragement in getting the project to this stage, namely Damian Burrin, Thomas Stratford and David Whale.
Risks and challenges
On the whole, this project is pretty risk free, especially considering that, at the time of writing, it is still two months until Christmas! If the Kickstarter goes to plan then I will place the order for the PCBs in early November and receive them at the end of the month. Backers should then receive their trees early in December.
I ran a very similar Kickstarter two ago years ago which proved to be very successful and delivered on time. I will, of course, keep you updated with progress through regular updates.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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