Tag Archives: neopixel

Scalable lighting systems

The X-mass holiday is always a nice time of the year to spend studying and tinkering on electronics projects. In the EEGsynth project we have identified that it would be cool to control light with brain and body signals, besides controlling modular synthesizers which we have focussed on so far. As it is not yet clear what kind of light and what kind of control will conceptually and aesthetically work well on the EEGsynth control signals, I have been studying both small and large lighting systems. We might for example want to use small and wearable lights on a performer, or control the stage light, or use a LED strip as indicator of the EEG-extracted control signals.

In theatrical and stage performance lighting there is a clearly dominant standard: DMX512. For lighting setups there are many fixtures (i.e. lamps rigged on ceiling mounted truss) that can be remotely controlled over DMX512, not only on-off, but they can be dimmed, the color can be changed, spotlights can be moved, etc. If you look on for example on Thomann, you’ll see that many light fixtures support DMX.

The Disco Biscuits – City Bisco – 10/5/12 – The Mann Center for the Performing Arts – Philadelphia, PA – Photo © Dave Vann 2012

Going to the smallest systems, I considered individual LEDs. Neopixels are a very interesting type of RGB LEDs, which combine a red, green and blue (and sometimes white) LED in a single few-mm small housing together with a controller chip. The controller chip allows the individual LED intensities of the neopixels to be addressed over a serial controller by a microcontroller such as an Arduino. Furthermore, multiple Neopixels can be daisy-chained, where each pixel in the array can be addressed. LED strips consisting of 30, 60 or even 144 pixels per meter can be purchased per meter, for example on Ebay.

Adafruit NeoPixel Ring with 16 x 5050 RGB LEDs with integrated drivers

For the the EEGsynth it is desirable to have a single control module that provides a uniform interface between ExG control signals and light control. An individual neopixel can be considered as an RGB lamp, just like a theatrical stage light. The intensity of the red, green and blue can be controlled, just like the DMX channels of a stage light. Controlling a small LED jewel worn by the performer should not be different than controlling the light of the stage on which the performer acts.

An important difference in the requirements for fixed stage lighting and a small wearable LED jewel is that the first must hook up to existing DMX512 cabling systems, whereas the second should be wireless. This is where Art-Net and the ESP-8266 come in. Art-Net is a protocol for sending the DMX control protocol over a network. The ESP-8266 is a small and low-cost microcontroller combined with a WiFi chip that is compatible with Arduino.

Further details on the hardware and firmware design for the actual light controller modules will come in a series of follow-up posts.