Monthly Update May 2022

glowingkitty
7 min readMay 1, 2022

Hey there! And welcome to another monthly update about my LED projects, what progress I made and what comes next!

What happened in April?

The first major thing I worked on was fixing the PCB designs of GlowLight/GlowTower, GlowTube, GlowHub, GlowCore & GlowCore Mini. The connected LED strips have been glowing perfectly fine after I fixed some stupid mistakes I made in the PCB design — like accidentally switching 5V and GND on the PCBs where LED should be soldered to. Another issue was that software could only be uploaded to the ESP32 by pressing the reset button at the right time. That’s hopefully fixed now with the latest changes I made to all my PCB designs — so you can just connect the LED lamps or development boards to your computer and just upload new software, without having to press any button whatsoever.

The first prototype of GlowTube with custom designed PCBs

But then, there is the main issue that kept my brain busy in April — the “GlowSync” port. I started adding this (RJ11) port to my LED projects to have a reliable way of getting multiple LED lamps to react perfectly in sync to the same music in the same way at the same time (or better said: with a delay which humans won’t notice). But this turned out to be way more tricky than expected. At least done properly, with a good user experience, which doesn’t require the user to change software settings each time a lamp is connected or disconnected. But I don’t want to delay the release of the updated LED lamps even further, for possibly another 1–2 months.

The first prototype of GlowHub, which was designed as an optional control unit to keep multiple LED lamps in sync, reacting the same way to music. But just software alone might already be enough for that purpose.

So I started researching alternative options. It seems there are indeed software-based solutions to this problem, which in the worst case require a separate computer to run software like LEDfx — for having multiple WLED lamps glow in sync. And who knows, maybe I even find a software solution in the coming months which won’t require an additional desktop pc or laptop to run all the time for this to work, but which can run on an ESP32 or a cheap Raspberry Pi.

So, I removed the physical receiver port from my LED lamps, which also allowed me to make the case of GlowLight way slimmer, as well as further reduce the complexity of the main PCB and reduce the parts needed. Once I received and assembled the updated PCB prototypes I can then also test out a bunch of software solutions to make the LEDs react in sync to the same music.

Without the GlowSync port, the bottom case of GlowLight is also a lot slimmer!

Another important change suggestion came from a friend, who tested out a previous prototype of GlowLight and noticed that he barely ever changes the LED animation since taking out the phone, opening the right app, and using the WLED interface just to change the animation made it unattractive for him to do so. So he suggested an additional button to turn on/off the lamp and to switch the animations. Awesome idea! And I must admit… a very obvious one as well, once I thought about it. So I updated the design of the GlowLight case and PCBs to include such a button — including designing a custom LED strip PCB, which has an extra trace just for the button, so I don’t need to use any wires in addition to the PCBs. Plus — the PCBs also remove the need for an aluminum tube, making the design even simpler. And while I was already redesigning GlowLight anyway — I also discovered a great use case for SMD nuts: to connect the PCB to the case and remove the need for inserting nuts into the case. An important step for being able to produce the case out of epoxy with the help of a silicone mold — and even better, processing it with a CNC machine out of wood! Those however are projects for another time, since I want to keep it simple for now and focus on producing the cases with 3D printers, for the beginning at least.

And I am currently also in the process to update/redesign GlowTube as well, to include the new control button and integrate it nicely inside the case design as well.

Speaking of… My hate/love relationship with Fusion360 from Autodesk further intensified, because my 3D models partially broke whenever I wanted to make bigger changes to them. To be fair, that was at least partially my mistake. One of the mistakes I made was not splitting up my 3D models enough into separate files — instead I created everything in one large file. The problem with that: things get easily chaotic and finding where I can modify specific parts of the 3D model can get very tricky. Another mistake I made was to reference a lot of parts of the case 3D model based on the PCB design, which I imported from KiCad as a .step file. But every time I was updating the PCB, this reference broke (plus the PCB 3D often also moved for whatever reason, making the whole process even more annoying).

So now I split up larger 3D models into separate files first and also don’t use the PCB files as a reference — and also test out more often if my 3D model breaks if I just update some measurements. So I can fix those issues quickly before they completely mess up my 3D model later on.

Next, I also made a step towards fixing my bike! No, I am not talking about fixing the wheels, breaks, or other typical parts. Of course, I am talking about the LEDs of GlowBike! They haven’t been working in a long time and my previous setups on the bike have all been very… improvised. With the summer ahead of us, I want to change that and get my bike glowing again! So I finally ordered some flexible LED tubes, which should look awesome on the bike, and are also waterproof. Looking forward to testing them out. And since they of course also have to be powered by something, I will also fix the remaining electronics of my bike — and possibly also design custom PCBs for it as well!

I am feeling nostalgic… It’s time to make my bike glow again like it used to!

And speaking of LED projects I worked on a while ago before I started to learn PCB design — I also really miss my glowing laptop from back then! So I also started to create a custom PCB, to recreate the project in a way that is way more compact, lightweight and doesn’t get misinterpreted by airport security as something dangerous (yeah, I had that happen with my laptop). It’s still in the early stage and doesn’t have any priority at the moment, since it’s more important to first finish GlowLight/GlowTower, GlowTube, GlowCore Mini, and GlowCore. But you will hear more updates on that project in the coming two months.

With what I learned in the recent months about PCB design, it’s also time to recreate a better version of my glowing laptop! But this time in a small, nice looking form factor. On the left: a first draft of how the PCB for that could look like.

What’s next in May?

First, I will finish the redesign of GlowTube. Both the PCBs and case, including the new control button and integrating it seamlessly into the case. Next, I will also finish updating the GlowCore Mini and GlowCore PCB designs — and once that is done, ordering the new PCB designs.

And while I will wait for the PCBs and components to arrive, I will focus on preparing for the re-launch of my online shop. With a better design and without monthly hosting fees (so yeah, no more Shopify is the goal). I also plan on working further on GlowOS. My forked version of WLED, which I use for my LED lamps — and where I want to adapt the user interface design and also optimize some configurations for my LED lamps.

Time to continue the design I started a long time ago and use it for GlowOS, my WLED fork.

My goal is to get everything ready for May 19 to May 22, when GPN (Gulaschprogrammiernacht) 2022 will happen in Karlsruhe. The first larger event in the german hackspace community I am aware of since the beginning of the pandemic. The last time I have been to a larger event in the community was 36C3, end of 2019 — so I am REALLY looking forward to this event! Also, from May 25 to 31 there will be the World Hedonists Congress in Berlin, where some people from xHain (the local hackspace where I spend a lot of time) also plan on giving electronics/soldering workshops — and I plan on helping out as well. So yeah, some really exciting events to look forward to, coming up in May.

And last but not least, I am super excited about another LED project I worked on a lot in recent months — and which I will soon be able to tell more about — stay tuned for that in the next monthly update ;)

Hope to see you in the next update and enjoy the weather up to then!

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glowingkitty

Hey, Marco here! Maker and LED enthusiast. Loves learning new skills and exploring the world.