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Hardware Hacking United Kingdom

Add USB LED Notifications To Your PC With Just a Bit of Soldering (Video) 129

Posted by timothy
from the blue-flashing-means-a-sale dept.
Arvydas Juskevicius (say that five times fast) is an independent software developer and hardware hacker based in London (which is where I got a chance to talk with him) who's decided to bring the useful LED signalling capabilities of many modern smartphones into the world of desktop or laptop computers. With his £10 BlinkStick kit (£15 pre-assembled), you get a programmable multi-color LED that's about the size of a flash memory key. Deceptively simple -- it's essentially one giant pixel, after all, which might not sound exciting when you have millions of them on a dense display surface. But that LED light is something you can use as a signal for alarms, or to tell you that you have a message from one app while another is at full-screen, or practically anything else that you can devise software to notice and react to. I get the sense that Juskevicius would prefer that people get the kit version, to help spur interest in actually soldering some hardware rather than just plugging it in. If you're allergic to paying in other than U.S. dollars, the BlinkStick is also available from Adafruit Industries. Watch the video below to see it in action.

Arvydas Juskevicius: BlinkStick is a DIY kit I designed myself and this is something that I just wanted to solve a very simple problem. I want to display an email notification on my computer. We all have this on our phones and tablets but nobody does that I thought well, I just didn’t have something that I could build myself, that I could use it on my computer. So effectively, that’s what it is. And this small device - it is the size of a USB dongle for memory. And you can build it yourself.

Once you build it, then you just plug it into a computer and it just works with Windows, Mac and Linux. It doesn’t need any drivers. It comes with a wide range of API implementations and programing languages like Python, Node.js, Ruby, Dotnet and also Autoit if you have ever heard about that.And so it is also hackable.

So right here, I have it hooked up to an Ikea Dioder and it is controlling the whole LED strip right around this, around my table, (which is for the purpose of demo). In addition to that, it is also being hackable. It also can be linked over to BlinkStick.com where it can be controlled remotely. So you can set the color remotely and it has this very basic API. So this is pretty much it.

Tim:What does it cost?

Arvydas:It is£10.

Tim:And what are some examples of things you might use it for, okay email notifications

Arvydas:So one of them is emails. So there are two things that it can be used. I have heard people using it for various crazy things. So first of all, this is like something that you would do for educational purposes, where you would like to learn a little bit of soldering and it is really easy to solder it, it is just 15 components in it– I designed it that way. So it is like a learning experience.

So you solder it, you hook it up to a computer and then you can use one of the APIs just to control and interface it. Another option is it can also come in pre-soldered so you can just use it to do some email notifications, build process I know companies are using it for notifications about well, from third party telephone systems, about new messages, where they don’t have it normally.There is also a guy who is using it to calibrate a telescope somewhere in the mountains. This was really bizarre for me.There is also

Tim:How do you use it to calibrate a telescope?

Arvydas:To be honest, I know I just have this as a he wrote an email that he is going to be using that and he is doing it in some way so it is probably like pointing it to the light so that it focuses properly, or something like that.

There is also another option. I have also heard that they are using it as a postman detector where a wireless camera that links to Raspberry Pi and links to (it works great with Raspberry Pi), where a wireless camera links to a Raspberry Pi connected to a BlinkStick and whenever there is movement, the webcam notifies Raspberry Pi and lights up BlinkStick that there is somebody at the door.

So there is really a wide variety of ways it is being used. I have been putting a lot of tutorials on the website and there is also a blog where I write about whatever somebody comes up with it. So there is also like a possibility to use it as an Ambilight clone where it glows around the monitor and throws an average color (there is also a video on BlinkStick.com).So that’s pretty much.

Tim:I see several of them hooked into one USB controller and they are running independently, is that right?

Arvydas:Yeah. So all of them are controlled separately and they are all just running through different well animations as they call them, but each of them can be addressed separately, and if you have more of them you can control any of those, so you can one notification for an email, another notification for well, temperature, like it is going to be hot outside so I probably should take a coat, it is going to be hot, outside, so if it bothers you so don’t take a coat, and that could be represented by a red light from BlinkStick that picks the information from a web well, from a web based service.

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Add USB LED Notifications To Your PC With Just a Bit of Soldering (Video)

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  • by danceswithtrees (968154) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @05:53PM (#45613137)

    I was thinking pretty much the same. This is a computer controlled, USB RGB LED (triplet of TLAs!). You can get a Tiva Launchpad from TI preassembled with RGB LED (surprisingly bright BTW) for $13 including shipping. The 15 GBP is about $25 and 10 GBP is $16 in comparison-- I don't know if shipping included in price. Granted the Blinkstick is in a smaller form factor that plugs in directly but the Launchpad has a ARM Cortex processor, GPIO, ADC, UART, USB, etc on it which you can use for other things should you tire of the notification light thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @06:33PM (#45613549)

    ... which is something like http://www.ck3.co.uk/minimus-32-avr-atmel-atmega32u2-usb-dev-board.html, which does USB in hardware, has 2 LEDs already on board and only costs £6.00, or as little as £3.50 if you buy in bulk. Plus you can emulate pretty much any USB device you want - I've used one to drive a whole set of RGB LEDs by mimicking a MIDI output device and mapping notes to colours.

    £15 quid for a single LED driven by an inappropriate microcontroller? About the dumbest thing I've heard in a while.

  • Modern connection interfaces are complex enough that you need an IC to negotiate a connection before you can even get a LED blinking. Today's systems aren't exactly designed for hobbyists to build things.

    Get an old beige box. You can solder a resistor and LED to the DTR pin of a serial port, and program it with a couple lines of assembly -- Oop, nope. The modern OSs aren't really designed for hobbyists to build things either. You'll be learning how to write a kernel driver for your OS if you use Linux. This is why I still use and make small DOS-esque OSs -- It's quite easy using BIOS interrupts. Also, you can still install DOS on nearly all x86-64 systems...

    Data Terminal Ready is just one pin, but with it and the RxD / TxD pins you can build a simple lock-step electronic coms project on a serial port -- So you don't have to implement the whole RS232 chipset just to do a little manual IO. Parallel ports have many more such pins to play with, and don't require serialization either. That's why I teach kids to make robotics with DOS like OSs on my spare "junk" -- Because it's so much faster, cheaper, and easier than with USB, or even RS232 serializing and deserializing state -- Save that for when they get a bit more skilled. There's something almost magical to watching bits flip in memory by making and breaking electrical contacts; Folks immediately start thinking up ways to use such a thing. It's fun watching the scales fall from their eyes as kids realize computers aren't impenetrable black boxes full of voodoo. It's kind of funny that you have to buy a kit with ICs to make more transparent the interface provided by making and breaking pins on older hardware.

    In my experience, once you get past a couple of LEDs or controlling higher voltage switches via contactors, etc. the next stop usually isn't a notification app for your system -- It's a breadboard full of gizmos, or using your PC to control your other gadgets.

    Eg: Readers who liked TFA also liked LIRC. [lirc.org]
    (swap the LED with IR-LED, and control your home theater setup)

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