We are announcing our first effort here on Kickstarter! This project is designed to allow you to incorporate our unique RGB Led Matrix building blocks into your lighting projects. This Open Source Hardware (OSHW) project is designed to give the community a new format for led lighting projects. It is designed to be simple, modular, and easily configurable.
This project started in early December 2012 as I intended to make a unique and novel Christmas Present for my children. I set about to take a readily available WS2812 RGB Led Strip and make a light up led table for my children. Using 5 meters of this led strip and over 40 individual wires I came up with this awesome 32x10 matrix table.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the results and the kids love the table. They probably love to mash the arcade buttons more than anything else! After a few weeks it became apparent there were a few problems with these leds strips.
Heat - These leds can dissipate a lot of heat! The RGB strips are thin flex circuits and despite large ground and power planes are susceptible to heat effects. Namely the led strips want to warp and twist. This becomes problematic when the adhesive backing is no longer able to handle these thermal loads and allows the tape to become unseated.
Alignment - Despite my best efforts there was no way I could properly line up the led strips. A form factor that would allow for easy and repeatable alignment is highly desirable.
Wiring - Cutting and wiring up this 32x10 matrix was ridiculously difficult. I count no less than 50 individual wires to make the leds light properly. This is a lot of cutting, stripping, and tinning of wires. Additionally, wiring up the power supply to minimize voltage drop across the led strip was difficult.
The Solution - PCB Based RGB Led Matrix
With my Mechanical/Thermal/Electrical design experience I knew I could come up with a solution to all the problems I experienced early on with the kids table.
Magic LEDs: WS2812s
I did some research and found that you can buy the individual leds that make up these large led strips. These led pixels are commonly known as the WS2812. The manufacturer is able to combine the individual led dies (RGB) with a small controller that handles the pwm control of the leds. These parts have an extremely small form factor, require very few additional passives to make them function properly, are extremely bright, and are very inexpensive compared to their traditional counterparts.
How do you control the WS2812?
The WS2812 chips are readily controlled using Arduino, mBED, PIC and various other micro controller devices. These devices can be programmed with open source software and pre-programmed libraries that are readily available. We will be posting links to code on our website with examples and contributions back to the open source software and hardware communities.
RGB Led Matrix Design
To address all of the issues with the led strips I went with a heavy duty 2 oz copper pcb with large ground and power planes to maximize heat dissipation. By placing the leds in repeatable patterns on a pcb I knew I could fix all the alignment issues. Finally, I knew that if I added large 12 ga wiring and two XT60 heavy duty amperage capable plugs that I could minimize voltage drop across the leds. Signal input and output is made through a simple 3 pin 0.1" inline header and servo cable. Knowing that I wanted to use these leds in a variety of projects I came up with a number of configurations that I thought would be useful to myself and others.
To start slowly I came up with an 8x8 RGB Led Matrix:
By taking eight of these 8x8 matrices and linking them together I was able to create the 512 led matrix that you see below. Running the leds at full brightness makes for some stunning visual displays.
In-House Manufacturing Upgrades
Due to the repetitive nature of this project I decided to invest in a production capable Pick and Place machine to handle the placing of the leds. This allows for decreased production times and increased uniformity of the placement of the individual leds on the pcb.
Here you can see the speed at which the Pick and Place allows us to rapidly produce prototypes. Placing the leds has gone from 30 minutes per board (hand) to 3 minutes (machine)!
Leveraging this new manufacturing capability and coupling this with readily available pcb prototyping services I have been able to crank through a variety of configurations of the RGB Led Matrices. I feel that I have both the design and manufacture process in place to handle the goals of this Kickstarter Campaign.
Kids Table 2.0
I pressed forward and added a 16x16 Design and incorporated this into Kids Table 2.0. Using a 6x16x16 Led Matrices I was able to create a 32x48 RGB Table. I went from 320 leds on the original design all the way up to 1536 leds! The brightness of this new table is really hard to believe. In the short video below, I have implemented "Conway's Game of Life" as a neat visual display of the capability that these matrices can provide.
All of the designs (schematics and gerbers) and software associated with the entire RGB-123 lineup (present and future) will remain open source. We have leveraged efforts of the OSHW community in the development of these products and will be contributing our designs back to this community. We will make these files readily available at both our website and via github.
Reward Level I:
The first reward level we will be offering is the 1x8 RGB Led matrix. This led matrix is arranged in an 1×8 configuration with 12.5mm spacing between the centers of the 8 RGB leds. The matrix is sized to be 1.5 cm x 10cm with mounting holes along the edge and middle of the pcb. The 8 leds can consume 0.48A @5V for a total 2.4 Watts of power. Two simple three pin 0.1″ male headers are included to power and control the WS2812 leds.
Reward Level II and III:
The second and third reward levels we will be offering are the 8x8 RGB Led matrix. This led matrix is arranged in an 8×8 configuration with 12.5mm spacing between the centers of the 64 leds. The matrix is sized to be 10cm x 10cm with mounting holes along the edge and middle of the pcb. The 64 leds can consume 3.84A @5V for a total 19.2Watts of power. Two simple three pin 0.1″ male headers are included to power and control the WS2812 leds. Two XT60 male and female connectors with 4″ of 12GA silicone wire are included to minimize power drop to the led matrix.
Reward Level IV:
The fourth reward level we will be offering is the 8x16 RGB Led matrix.This led matrix is arranged in an 8×16 configuration with 12.5mm spacing between the centers of the 128 RGB leds. The matrix is sized to be 10 cm x 20 cm with mounting holes along the edge and middle of the pcb. The 128 leds can consume 7.68A@5V for a total 38.4 Watts of power. Two simple three pin 0.1″ male headers are included to power and control the WS2812 leds. Two XT60 male and female connectors with 4″ of 12GA silicone wire are included to minimize power drop to the led matrix.
Reward Level V:
The fifth reward level we will be offering is the 16x16 RGB Led matrix. This led matrix is arranged in an 16×16 configuration with 12.5mm spacing between the centers of the 256 leds. The matrix is sized to be 20cm x 20cm with mounting holes along the edge and middle of the pcb. The 256 leds can consume 15.36A @5V for a total 76.8 Watts of power draw. Two simple three pin 0.1″ male headers are included to power and control the WS2812 leds. Two XT60 male and female connectors with 4″ of 12GA silicone wire are included to minimize power drop to the led matrix.
What will you Light Up?
We have provided a couple of examples that we have made, but we are really looking forward to seeing what projects you will use these really cool matrices in!
Risks and challenges
From the very onset of the design process we have sought to minimize risk associated with the fulfillment of this project. We have heavily invested in-house assembly and prototype capabilities and advanced prototype design. This investment will easily allow us to meet our goal requirements.
We already have 16K leds and numerous pcbs in stock to begin manufacturing immediately. We can quickly receive more leds and pcbs from our overseas suppliers with a turn time of about 2 weeks.
If we are to exceed our goals we have partnered with overseas suppliers and US based assembly houses to handle manufacturing requirements beyond our current capabilities.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)