Monday, 23 April 2012

Fun with LEDs

A couple of weeks ago we went to the Bradford Media Museum to look at their new computer exhibition (good, but too small). While there, I spotted a cool rotating LED light thing (see video). I found it quite mesmerising, so I had a look at the circuit-board to see how it was made. I spotted that it was manufactured by, a group who encourage people to play around with little programmable computer chips called PIC microcontrollers.

The appeal of these chips is that they are very cheap, and seem to be quite versatile. You can use them for building little custom-made devices that flash lights, read sensors etc.

The downside is that they're not for beginners. You need to be handy with a soldering iron and, if you want to get the chip to do anything other than what it was pre-programmed to do, you need to get your hands dirty with some programming. From what I have seen, it's not easy programming either. These chips don't have a high-level language built in, so you're looking at something akin to Assembly language if you want to write your own programs.

That doesn't scare me though. I don't know much assembly yet, but I'm willing to learn. For starters, I wanted to get my hands on a little beginners kit and try it out, so I chose the LED mood board kit.

This thing has 9 LEDs and a bunch of resistors and capacitors, all of which need to be soldered together, and a pre-programmed PIC chip. Fix it all up, plug it in and away it goes, cycling colours through a bunch of sequences. You can write your own programs with an adaptor kit (to attach it to your PC), but I haven't done that yet.
Louis loves the light on its own, even as a bare circuit board. It's really bright, and lights up the room.

Hopefully I'll get around to programming it and then move onto the 5x5 monster, but not for a little while.

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