About this project
Missed our Kickstarter? Check us out at http://ledpixelart.com
In addition to the included commissioned art from 10 artists around the world, PIXEL is a great way to show off 80s video game art.
UPDATE: SUPER PIXEL KIT REWARDS ADDED - a massive display of 4096 LEDs for a 64x64 resolution or 2048 LEDs for a 64x32 resolution. You can cascade up to 4 displays. The PIXEL displays can be in different configurations like up to 4 down or 4 across opening up some interesting custom installation possibilities.
Please click on the image above to find out more about our stretch goals
A year and a half ago, I had the idea to create an LED display that could be updated from a mobile app. With the help of my good friend, Ytai Ben-Tsvi, we developed the hardware and software for PIXEL. Ytai is also the creator of the open source IOIO board that PIXEL is built on.
The next step was to create the content for PIXEL. I was inspired by the minimalist, low res nature of pixel art which turned out to be the perfect fit for the project.
"Pixel art is set apart from other digital art forms by its focus on control and precision. The artist has to be in control of the image at the level of the single pixel, and every pixel should be purposefully placed. When pixel art is done purposefully, offsetting just a few pixels can have a dramatic effect on the image." ---Source: pixeljoint.com
I reached out to pixel art community and found artists to collaborate on the project. They seemed to like the idea of having this new medium composed solely of LEDs to show off their work. I ended up collaborating with 10 pixel artists from all over the world who created over 150 works of pixel art. I am still blown away by their ability to create compelling art and animations on a 32x32 canvas.
We executed a successful Kickstarter for PIXEL in 2013 and are now back with PIXEL V2 with many new features and improvements.
Features and Write-Ups
Click the PLAY button next to each artist who was commissioned for PIXEL and watch a video of their work.
An interview with Fernando with his thoughts on the pixel art genre
Post Kickstarter, PIXEL: LED ART will be on display in the KALEID art gallery in San Jose, California.
Create your own pixel art using your favorite editor. Save stills in .png format and animations as animated gifs.
To download and share your own pixel art creations with fellow PIXEL users, join the Google+ Community called "PIXEL LED ART".
Originally Kickstarted in March 2013, this is the second version of PIXEL with several enhancements based on community feedback. The most significant new feature is the ability to run animated gifs (animations) in stand alone mode. You set the art initially from your Android, PC, Mac, or Raspberry Pi and then it will continually run after your device has been disconnected from PIXEL.
Extended Video | Includes the Story Behind PIXEL
PIXEL comes included with a black translucent and a frosted white front panel which can be interchanged to customize the lighting effect.
Music by BoxCat Games http://box.cat
PIXEL's apps are free and available for download now although we will be updating the apps as this Kickstarter progresses. Not that not all features are available for each OS, details in the table below. We very much welcome your feedback here, please do tell us what features and apps you'd like to see. Sorry, an iOS native app is out of scope for this Kickstarter campaign. It would however be possible to use iOS through the browser to control PIXEL with the addition add-on of a Raspberry Pi ($35 credit card sized computer). We are considering developing this solution and will do so if there is enough interest, please do give us your thoughts here.
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that costs $35 USD. Adding a Raspberry Pi to PIXEL essentially puts PIXEL on your network opening up many possibilities. We're pretty excited about the types of applications that become possible with PIXEL and Raspberry Pi. If you've got an application idea, please do add a comment. The example below uses the Raspberry Pi to periodically pull weather information and then tells PIXEL which corresponding weather themed animated gif to display.
Embedded Weather App for the Raspberry Pi
PIXEL's front panels are interchangeable with printed designs resulting in a mixed media installation. Simply unscrew four screws by hand, no tool is required, and then attach one of the six mixed media panel designs. Add $20 to your pledge for each desired mixed media panel or $70 for all six. You'll specify which design(s) when you receive your shipping address survey at the conclusion of this Kickstarter.
PIXEL has 5 external sensor ports for expandability. At the moment, there are two Android apps utilizing the external sensors. The interactive animations app uses the proximity sensor for interactive animations that change when someone is near and the alcohol detector app uses the alcohol sensor for a novelty breathalyzer app. The optional sensor pack includes the proximity sensor, proximity sensor mount, alcohol sensor, and cables. Note that the interactive animations and alcohol detector apps are only available on Android and require the Android device to be connected to PIXEL to operate (ie, does not work in stand alone mode). Add $50 to your pledge to include the sensor pack.
Looking at PIXEL through diffraction glasses with the two front panels removed (for full LED brightness) produces a very neat effect.
Diffraction glasses split and diffract light into several beams traveling in different directions. This effect will make any light source appear colorful as if it were a rainbow, similar to a kaleidoscope. These glasses have been called firework glasses, prism glasses, rainbow glasses, diffraction glasses, 3d glasses, and rave glasses to name a few. They are best used in places with lots of lights, such as fireworks, nightclubs, and light shows.
Pixel Themed Diffraction Glasses from GloFX - Add $25 to your pledge
Black Diffraction Glasses from GloFX - Add $20 to your pledge
PIXEL contains 1,024 LEDs with each LED equivalent to one pixel for a resolution of 32x32. You just need to save your animations in animated gif format, there is no programming required whatsoever.
There are a few nuances when working with LEDs, the main one being low contrast colors don't display well, you'll find do's and don'ts in the Content Guide. While PIXEL's apps will automatically scale images and animated gifs to 32x32, you'll want to keep things as low res as possible as high resolution art work doesn't display well.
PIXEL is the easiest way to program an LED matrix. You simply need to author an animated gif and then use PIXEL's Android or PC/Mac/RaspberryPi apps to write the animated gif to the LED matrix. For custom installations, just the insides of PIXEL are available in a kit called PIXEL Guts. PIXEL Guts includes the 32x32 LED panel with 1,024 RGB LEDs. Note the proximity and alcohol sensors are not included with PIXEL Guts.
As Kickstarter allows one reward per backer, select your main reward and then add to your pledge accordingly per add-on item (i,e diffraction glasses, mixed media panel(s), sensor pack, V1 upgrade kit, or raw board). You won't be required to pay any additional shipping costs above and beyond your main reward. At the conclusion of this Kickstarter, we'll send you a survey where you'll specify the add-on items you've ordered. Feel feel to also send us a message with your order details and we'll add a note as well to be doubly sure we get your order right. If you'd like to add or remove add-on items later, simply adjust your pledge up or down during the duration of this Kickstarter.
Both the hardware and software for PIXEL are open source. Under the hood is an LED matrix panel that is driven by a custom IOIO board.
IOIO (pronounced "yo-yo") is an open source micro controller board, kind of like Arduino. The main difference between Arduino and IOIO is that with IOIO, you don't need to worry about the microcontroller side of your code. The digital pins, analog pins, and chip level protocols like SPI and I2C are exposed at the application layer via IOIO's Java libraries. As a developer, you only need to focus on your application level code and the microcontroller level code is taken care of for you. Traditionally, IOIO development is done in Java although recently some browser based script tools have become available for IOIO. The cross platform nature of Java makes things much easier when porting to new platforms. It is how we for example as a very small team are able to support Android, Windows, Mac, and Raspberry Pi. The core code is essentially the same across all the platforms, the only differences are the UI pieces. If you get stuck, you'll find other users hanging out on the IOIO users forum or if it's something PIXEL specific , then use the PIXEL developers forum.
PIXEL has two modes: stand alone mode and interactive mode. In stand alone mode, PIXEL will display still images and animations when no longer connected to a device. In this mode, the animation has been saved to the board's local SD card and will continue to run even after the device has been powered off and on.
In interactive mode, think of PIXEL as a secondary display that does something based on the logic from your Android or PC app. Your Android device or PC can control PIXEL over Bluetooth or a USB cable connection. To develop your own app for PIXEL, you'll need to be familiar with Android and/or Java programming and will use the PIXEL API.
Here's an example interactive mode project we did at a Ford Hackathon called the smart brake light to give you feel of what's possible. An Android device is receiving vehicle data over Bluetooth from an OpenXC Vehicle Interface plugged into the vehicle’s ODB port. The Android device is then using this data to send images and animations to PIXEL for brake events, hard brake events, and the gas accelerator position. Various animations are also sent to PIXEL based on voice commands from the Android device.
Note rear windows car displays are not legal in many countries.
We had a great time doing PIXEL V1 back in March of 2013. We raised $50K, shipped over 300 units, setup production in Shenzhen, China, received a whole lot of product feedback, enhanced the apps, and established collaborations with 10 pixel artists worldwide. Financially I ended up breaking even having made some rookie mistakes, mainly underestimating shipping costs. The goal has always been and remains for PIXEL to be a self sustaining product post Kickstarter. Having implemented the majority of the feedback from V1, we feel PIXEL V2 is now a mature enough product to meet this goal. We'll need to fund a second manufacturing run to make this happen however which is the primary reason we're back on Kickstarter.
The hardware design and prototype is complete and ready to be manufactured now. What you see in the pictures and video is what will ship. PIXEL's software is 70% complete, the big work of modifying PIXEL's firmware to support a local SD card and run animated gifs in stand alone mode has been completed. The 30% remaining software work comprises of code changes to PIXEL's existing apps to support the animated gifs in stand alone mode. We recently got the software ported to the Raspberry Pi, there is some remaining work to optimize the software for the Pi.
We'll be partnering again with our manufacturer, Seeedstudio, who did such a great job for us on PIXEL version 1. Seeedstudio is based out of Shenzhen, China and will be responsible for sourcing, manufacturing, assembly, and shipping. Seeedstudio has been fantastic, I highly recommend them to anyone with ambitions to do their own hardware project.
A special thanks to Ytai Ben-Tsvi, creator of the open source IOIO board, for all his invaluable help on this project. And also to Manju Chintamani who took up the task of modifying the firmware to support the local SD card and stand alone operation. And lastly, Roberto Marquez who was kind enough to develop PIXEL's PC application.
As a side note, here's the slides from a class I taught which talks about how a hobbyist can go from an idea to a product. A lof of the talk also goes over my experience and lessons learned from the initial PIXEL version 1 Kickstarter.
Thank you very much for checking out this project.
-- The PIXEL Team
Ytai Ben-Tsvi, Al Linke, Manju Chintamani (from left to right)
Roberto Marquez (not pictured)
Seeedstudio Team (from left to right)
Echo Zhou (Project Manager), Cuifang Wang (Electrical Engineer), Ji Luo (Mechanical Design), Louvee Cong (Software Engineer)
Risks and challenges
What we learned from our initial PIXEL V1 Kickstarter is that what can go wrong will go wrong with hardware projects. From prototypes damaged during transit to boards needed a re-design, hardware projects are high risk endeavors by nature. To mitigate risk, we've held off launching this Kickstarter until the hardware design and prototype was complete which it now is. We'll also be partnering with the same manufacturer, Seeedstudio, who manufactured and shipped 300+ PIXEL V1 units during our first round. Having designed PIXEL's case, Seeed has been an integral part of the project since day 1. I'm also taking my own advice which is to add 2 months to whatever you think you can do for a hardware project to provide some schedule buffer.
We will be applying for CE certification which is required for countries in the European Union. Our manufacturer, Seeedstudio, has gone through this process before and we'll be going through this process for PIXEL. We believe there is enough time but it is a risk.
On the software side, we're about 70% complete. The heavy lifting of modifying the firmware to support an SD card and stand alone mode is done. Now it's a matter of modifying PIXEL's apps to take advantage of this new feature. As with any software, there will be bugs and PIXEL will be no different. We'll do our best to address software bugs in a timely manner.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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