I went to Burning Man in 2010 for the first time and knew I had to have some lights at night as it can be really dark out on the playa. So I bought some EL-wire and attached it to the side of my trousers while I was there. I thought it would be really cool, until I actually went out during the night and found out everybody had EL-wire attached to their clothes.
For Burning Man 2011 I needed something way cooler. So after doing some research I decided to build an RGB LED suit. I found a factory in China that actually sold addressable modules that had 3 5050 smd LED’s on them and that would enable you to control these modules individually, something I wanted to be able to do for a long time.
After an exciting period of waiting if my shipment would actually arrive I was happy to find a box in the mail full of modules.
Due to to limited amount of SRAM in the Arduino Nano (2Kb) coding the controlling software was quite a challenge as the three levels of color per LED take up 1 bit each so that sums up to 3bits x 200 modules = 600 bytes just to store the current state of the LED’s.
Another issue was storing the patterns in SRAM. I created a two dimensional array to map the number of the LED module to it’s physical location on my clothes. The Flash library by Mikal Hart allows you to use flash memory (PROGMEM) and read it when you need to in an easy way, so that saved me quite a bit of SRAM space.
I first build a prototype of the hardware:
I added an LCDisplay and some buttons so I would be able to navigate thru the different patterns I coded and added an MSGEQ7 IC and a microphone. The MSGEQ7 chip is a seven-band audio spectrum analyzer chip. You just pulse a reset pin and then clock out seven analog values that correspond the spectral content in seven bands.
As the LED’s would be all over my body I created a controller what would be mounted to the back of my hand.
So here is another picture of both the prototype and the pcb’s of the hardware I build:
I took the suit to the CCC camp to beta test it but forgot the controller so I rewrote the software while I was there to show a rainbow pattern.
I was surprised that I had no issues bringing the LED suit and the battery packs on a plane
to the states did not give me any questions at airport security.
I programmed quite a lot of patterns for the suit, most of them speed and color adjustable:
– a vertical scan pattern, going up or down or up/down (see video below)
– random fading up and down
– white sparks on/of random also
– rainbow (see video below)
– a special pattern that I can trigger when someone shakes my hand that makes my suit start to glow from that hand to the rest of my body
The reactions to the suit were amazing I had so many people wanting to take a picture with me or just thanking me for the suit. Using the pattern with the handshake to thank them back was alot of fun, seeing the amazement in their eyes 🙂
Here is me in my suit at Burning Man 2011: