Editorial Notebook

LEDs illuminate The Poly

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot more time in The Poly office than I have in past years. This semester and last semester, The Poly and its staff have become not only a team that cranks out a newspaper every Tuesday, but a group of friends. Additionally, The Poly has been working on improvements and changes to our work environment and office. Last semester, I headed the project to install LED light strips to illuminate the new letters in the Poly office windows. The idea of the project is to make the newspaper more visible on campus, especially to Freshman Hill. The project was more than just picking up some parts at the hardware store and strapping them together. The design utilizes a custom PCB that takes an Arduino and gives it 16 high-current PWM channels, perfect for driving and dimming long strips of LEDs. The board also entails a potentiometer knob, pushbutton, and LED display for configuring modes/choosing between the different outputs.

Each window contains just over a meter of LED strip for each color. The strips are then connected back to the controller using an Ethernet cable, as that keeps cable management relatively simple for the 15 control lines plus power lines that are being run to the LEDs. Last semester, we only had red and white strips, enabling us to illuminate those colors, and the mixtures in between (basically pink). This semester, I donated a couple extra colors, blue and green. With these extra colors, we now have red, green, and blue—the only colors we need in order to output any color we want. Currently, the only limitation we have is the strength of the software I have written for it and our imaginations. The source code for the controller can be found on my GitHub at http://poly.rpi.edu. If you’re interested in writing some code to improve the aesthetics of our window or even just have some suggestions for patterns (including special holiday patterns), feel free to contact me at systems@poly.rpi.edu. Some future goals for the project include expansion of the low-level APIs to make programming new patterns and displays much easier for someone with little experience in programming and the possible addition of more LED strips across the top of the windows in order to balance the lighting in the windows. Also, future hardware revision may occur that allows remote access, so modifications of the lights can be made from outside The Poly office.

For other electronic project endeavors, I highly suggest reaching out to the Embedded Hardware Club. The Embedded Hardware Club runs workshops and projects where builders, makers, and hackers of all skill levels can learn while getting their hands dirty. If you are interested, please contact contactehc@union.rpi.edu. Also, feel free to check out their website http://rpiehc.org, which includes links to sign up for their mailing lists, archives of previous emails, open lab hours, and previous and current project listings.