HackSpace magazine

Can We Hack It? An RGB Light Kit

By Les Pounder. Posted

The holiday season is but a memory, yet the nights are still long and dark. So adding a little light to our home is important, and using custom RGB lights via a Bluetooth app is the best way to do it. So how hackable is a set of RGB LEDs embedded into a ten-metre string of copper wires? Well, for that we need to take it apart.

GENERAL CONSTRUCTION

The largest part of the lights is the ten-metre lengths of copper wire that are used to connect each surface-mount LED in a large chain which can be cut to length. The copper wires go to a simple plastic enclosure via a sheath which is used to mechanically hold the wires, and to provide an external power connection.

The plastic used for the enclosure is thin and easily worked with hand tools. The mechanical sheath for the wires is also very strong – much stronger than the wires, so take care. The enclosure also has three plastic buttons which are made in a way that they will press a momentary switch and then spring back into place.

ELECTRONICS

The brains of this product is a TLSR8267 Bluetooth (BLE) system on a chip (SoC) from Telink Semiconductor. The SoC comprises a 32-bit CPU running at up to 48MHz, 512kB of flash memory, and 16kB of RAM. There are also up to 37 GPIO connections, but these are not broken out to the PCB.

The SoC also comes with a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transceiver, which is also Bluetooth 4.2 and enables connection from a smartphone via a dedicated app. Power is supplied via a USB connection offering 5V 500mA, but the unit rarely uses even half of the available power.

The board has multiple solder points, some with pre-soldered connections for power input (6V5 which provides 4.8 V) and three connections for red, green, and blue outputs. The voltage provided to these pins varies as the 'mix' of colours is chosen.

The control unit is very hackable; we can solder new buttons to control the unit, and we can solder header pins to  ash the board, if we can source the correct software

The unsoldered pins are GND, TX, RX, and 3V3, which offer a serial connection for a dedicated development kit. Soldering pins to these connections is trivial for experienced users, but it won't do much good as no matter what we used to monitor the serial connection, no data was transferred to or from the board.

Another set of unsoldered pins are for a single-wire communication system developed by Telink. ‘SWS’ refers to a single-wire slave device which requires a connection to a single-wire master device in order to see any data.

The colour and patterns created by the lights can be controlled directly from the plastic control unit. This offers limited control, but enough for basic use. And we can easily solder our own breakout buttons to the board, useful for cosplay use or a more robust interface.

For more advanced users, the Govee Home app – available for iOS and Android – is required and provides a much more advanced way to control every aspect of the lights, from simple colours to elaborate animations.

These LEDs may be 'smart', but they are not individually addressable, so the colour or animation you choose for the lights will be seen in every single LED, unlike NeoPixels and other addressable LEDs which enable individual control.

What's great about this kit is that no matter how we use the lights, the control board will remember our preference ready for the next time they are used. Handy for decorating your home.

Cost-effective and simple lights for your project, all wrapped up in a nice package and controlled via an app

HACKABILITY

For quick and simple LED lighting, this unit is perfect, more for the price than function. It is hackable and can be easily integrated into a project with very little effort.

Relying on USB power means we can power the lights from any USB power bank, and even with a 1200 mAh dollar/pound/euro store battery, we can get a few hours of light for our cosplay. The free app is a nice bonus and works reasonably well.

In the latest update, there is a sound-to-light option for sound- reactive LEDs. But this relies on your phone's microphone to detect sound and control the lights accordingly. So if you are concerned about your privacy, best not use this option.

When it comes to using the lights with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi etc., this is possible as the LEDs are simple RGB LEDs. Just ensure that you measure your voltages and take the appropriate steps to safeguard your boards.

CONCLUSION

Cost-effective and easy-to-use illumination for projects great and small. This would be particularly effective in cosplay, as the control board can be hidden from sight and accessed using custom buttons. Using the lights in the home for decoration is a great idea as they can be wrapped around objects and retain their shape and strength thanks to the copper wire. Great fun, and ideal for the kids.
Happy hacking!

You'll need: Govee 10 m RGB Copper Wire Lights With App Model: H7312
Cost:£8.99

One by One

Addressable LEDs are a fascinating part of electronics. They come in single units, rings, squares, matrices, and self-adhesive tapes of varying lengths. In our collection, we have 'fairy light' versions which are used to decorate our Christmas tree and provide gentle illumination in our home.

The most popular addressable LEDs are NeoPixels, a brand name from Adafruit for WS2812B LEDs. These LEDs feature three LEDs for red, green, and blue, and these colours are mixed to produce any desired colour. NeoPixels can be used with many different boards, and they are often used with Arduino for embedded installations.

They are simple to learn and offer a great way to add interest to a project. The biggest drawbacks to WS2812B are that it requires exact timing in order to show colours, and that it can flicker, which is not ideal if using them in props for television or movies.

There are alternatives to WS2812B, such as APA102 and the SK9822 which both use the SPI interface (again, most boards have this) to achieve a similar effect; using SPI also means they do not rely on timing and so there is no flicker.


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