Introduction: Ceiling Fan LED Display

Picture of Ceiling Fan LED Display

Seeing so many persistence of vision ideas on the web was too tempting not to try one. After considering several different motors to drive a display, a ceiling fan seemed to run at just the right speed, is out of the way, and very quiet compared with alternatives. With a micro controller based on the Arduino, this project provided plenty of both software and hardware learning and besides, the kids were involved throughout...

Step 1: Design

Picture of Design

Since one of the primary goals was leaving the fan unharmed, I decided to make new fan blades out of some 1/4" plywood. The new blades were simple rectangles and are shorter than the originals. I made them smaller in an attempt to keep the assembled weight low, so as not to stress the supports when spinning. Early circuit considerations were to not interfere with the mounting hardware, scalability and one design to fit all different needs in the project. The circuit was based on the Arduino platform which provides so much support and the programming environment.

Step 2: Creating the Circuit Boards

Picture of Creating the Circuit Boards

The boards were designed using ExpressPCB. I choose to buy some single sided copper clad and etch them myself. There are plenty of how-to's for making boards but, I found the toner transfer method worked well for me. After a little experimenting with the clothes iron, overhead projector sheets printed in an old fax machine worked best. A black permanent marker or finger nail polish are good for touch ups of gaps where the toner does not adhere well to the copper. Also, the boards cut easily with a table saw since I don't have access to a shear. Muriatic acid and hydrogen peroxide was the mixture of choice to etch the boards. If you don't want to deal with the acid, you could always order the boards right through the ExpressPCB program.

Step 3: Drill and Solder

Picture of Drill and Solder

A small hobby drill index provided all the bits I needed to drill the holes. The board with the micro controller has somewhere near 200 holes. It doesn't take too long with a Dremel though. The LEDs were soldered on the copper side of the board. Since the board is single sided, I used a small plug as a spacer to keep the height uniform as they were installed.

Step 4: The Assembly Line

Picture of The Assembly Line

The fan has 5 blades and I settled on 32 lights per, so 10 boards were needed. I made up some jumper wires so I could test the boards as they were built. A few LEDs out of the bunch were bad. I choose to use the Atmel ATMEGA328 for the extra memory and 74HC595 shift registers to drive the LEDs. Each board also has its own voltage regulator. Only six more to go...

Step 5: Mounting the Boards

Picture of Mounting the Boards

After a quick trip to the table saw to cut the new blades, it was time to mount some boards. I used one of the mounting holes as a guide to line up the circuit boards as consistently as possible from blade to blade.

Step 6: Almost Ready to Run

Picture of Almost Ready to Run

A small wiring harness was made to connect the boards. A single micro controller and battery run all five blades. Eventually I intend to power it with a collector ring assembly or a battery on each blade. A hall effect switch is used to trigger the timing which passes across a magnet once per rotation.

Step 7: Bottom View

Picture of Bottom View

Bottom view shows how the boards extend toward the center of the fan. A few zip ties were also used to prevent the wiring harness from snagging.

Step 8: Phils?

Picture of Phils?

Don't forget to unplug the laptop after uploading. Shameless Philly fan photo. No pun intended.

Step 9: Programming Images

Picture of Programming Images

I used a spread sheet with a LOT of check boxes to easily convert images. Each check box represents the control point around the circle for a light. The spread sheet does a quick job of putting the code together to cut and paste into the fan program.

Step 10: One Last Image

Picture of One Last Image

Now the kids get their turn at some images. So far I've had about a dozen images loaded with plenty of memory to spare. Maybe a .GIF like animation is next. Hmmn...

Step 11: Another Image, and Code

Picture of Another Image, and Code

Another image, Arduino sketch, board layout and image spread sheet. Once a picture is inserted into the SS, size, move and send it to the background. As the boxes are checked off, the image code changes below it. Copy and paste into the sketch and upload!

Step 12: Video

Picture of Video
Apple image done by crazyrog17. It's not in the video though...
Camera frame rate makes it look chopped up. I think animated images are up next...


nhendrick (author)2012-10-25

Could you please share the spreadsheet you are using to plan the POV?
It would be very helpful in oorganizing the display.

UncleBone (author)nhendrick2012-10-26

It's at the bottom of Step 11

fuzvulf (author)2010-11-12

Love it.

Mulato (author)2010-08-29

mmm im trying to get the list of materials but they arent... im srry to ause you trouble.. kan you writte them? plase, ill be very thankful.. =)

PREDATOR_UK (author)Mulato2010-11-04

use my material list maker on my published instructables

Mulato (author)2010-08-28

woo ooo wooo! thanks! =) already big project helper =D

Mulato (author)2010-08-28

mmm its all perfekt, I need the diagram bekause this POV will be my projekt in my High Skhool this 11/Oktober, kan you give me the diagram? I Will be very thankful

UncleBone (author)Mulato2010-08-28

I added the ExpressPCB file to this step.

jimjinright (author)2010-05-01

This is an incredible device.  I saw it a few years ago at the Point of Purchase tradeshow; but it was on a smaller table fan.  That's great you were able to make this yourself.  It would be very cool if they could do something like this on aircraft i.e. a helicopter!

ck lau (author)crazyrog172009-09-15

Hi! Crazyrog17, Very nicely designed, is a brilliant idea, so may be I can use my picture on it? Thanks.

UncleBone (author)crazyrog172009-07-25

Very Nice! crazyrog17 sent a really great looking image. I put it on the top of the video step since it had no image. Thanks

crazyrog17 (author)UncleBone2009-07-26

My pleasure! Thanks for posting it! My thumb went numb clicking on my trackpad, but otherwise I'm glad to see the result! One thing to note though was the clear all button in the SS didn't work.

UncleBone (author)crazyrog172009-07-26

You need to have macros enabled under Tools > Macro > Security. Also, it takes a little time to loop through and clear them all. It is a lot of clicking. I should also put a "All ON" button and a "Negative Image" button. Because of the hole created in the middle, negative images seem to work best if the hole can be made part of the image. Thanks again

topflitejr1 (author)2009-07-22

Also, how much did the project cost?

UncleBone (author)topflitejr12009-07-26

I have to guess about 25 - 30 USD is on the fan. I tend to over buy in components and I made several prototype boards and still have parts and copper clad left over. Also, I didn't count the batteries which I plan to eliminate.

Cvteam (author)2009-07-23

Do you think of any chance of OverHeat or it's really safe?

UncleBone (author)Cvteam2009-07-26

Of the circuit or the fan? The blades weigh almost the same as the originals since I made them smaller. The voltage regulators barely get warm when it was on the bench.

mbudde (author)2009-07-22

That would be good to turn on while falling asleep.

ianlee74 (author)mbudde2009-07-23

Yea...some animated sheep would work well here. I'd love to see this updated to use RGB LEDs.

UncleBone (author)ianlee742009-07-26

RGBs are on the wish list. I considered them early in the planning but was put off by the cost.

mbudde (author)ianlee742009-07-23

Yeah, that wold be pretty cool. But sheep don't work for me. I counted 1000 of them the other night, and I still didn't fall asleep.

thalass (author)2009-07-23

This is truly awesome. I wonder if you could program it to display the time? If you had a clock with a seven-segment LED display output, could you convert the BCD into an image to display? Take the time, convert to an image, then wait 'till the time changes to do it again?

UncleBone (author)thalass2009-07-26

I'm sure it could be done but would require some more hardware and code.

AKA the A (author)2009-07-22

You could use the EM field from the fan motor to power this thing, it would be much more practical(& also matinance-free)... BTW nice idea for "use" of a POV...

carmatic (author)AKA the A2009-07-25

i dont know, but wouldnt the housing around the motor be shielded in some way so there is no EM leakage from the motor?

AKA the A (author)carmatic2009-07-26

1) no, try holding a neodimium magnet near a running one, you'll feel how it vibrates... 2) What I had in mind, was placing a coil (or two) directly onto the rotor plates(inside the housing), shape, size and placing depends on how the motor is constructed... also, there could be a stationary magnet(somewhere close to the propeller) and a coil(on the propeller of course), somewhat like a magnetto on a lawnmower & similar stuff...

UncleBone (author)AKA the A2009-07-26

It's a good idea. I do need a better power source and this is on the table so to speak. It was a bit too much in the first effort but, I might give it go along with other changes for the next one, if it ever happens.

thepelton (author)2009-07-22

I was thinking you could put it in a baby's room for amusement while he was nodding off to sleep. Of course, he could complain if he woke up two hours later, and it was off.

Robboberty (author)thepelton2009-07-23

I had a similar thought a while back when I kept my newborn amused for over an hour just shining a laser pointer on the ceiling. She's getting older and not as easily amused now though. :)

thepelton (author)Robboberty2009-07-23

Reminds me of a rather tasteless joke.

Robboberty (author)thepelton2009-07-23

Is that the one about sending the kid out on the porch with a Popsicle?

thepelton (author)Robboberty2009-07-24

No, it wasn't. This is the next day, and I can't remember what the joke was, but it had nothing to do with popsicles.

charlieb000 (author)2009-07-23

batteries? when i saw the pic i thought it would run from the induction motor fields - an idea perhaps (may need a electrician then :P)

mrwolfe (author)2009-07-23

Ammonium persulfate, sodium persulfate, cupric cloride or ferric chloride are the usual choices for etching copper pcb's with, although ferric chloride is pretty messy. Ammonium persulfate is fairly clean, although it doesn't work well when it's cool - needs to be at around 70C to be effective

srilyk (author)2009-07-23

I just glanced through and didn't notice if you have to turn the thing on or if it's "always on" - or if that timing thing turns it "on". What you could do, if you have to switch it on, is make something like the attached image.

Punkguyta (author)2009-07-22

This is BLOODY insane man, what if one of those flew off while it was spinning??? I'm just joking though, this is pretty neat, I had to wonder why someone hadn't thought of this before.

servant74 (author)Punkguyta2009-07-23

They did. ... I saw it in an electronics store in the mid 1990's in Houston. Also, POV (persistance of vision) projects have been on the net for a long time. One fan shop in Houston, had a ceiling fan mounted on its side in a window had one with a moving color display over 5 years ago. ... Pretty neat display. Still, doing it from scratch is a great project.

geek65535 (author)servant742009-07-23

That would be EPO (Electronic Parts Outlet,, which is the coolest geek store I've ever been in, and one of the things I miss most about Houston since I've moved away.

orksecurity (author)2009-07-23

OK, that's a cute adaptation of the technology... and one should be able to simply adapt the existing POV toys. But I agree that without at least some hints on how you did that adaptation -- how you mounted/integrated the synch magnet -- this more of a brainstorming piece. 'Ible yes, instruct no.

hot-fresh-rider (author)2009-07-23

awesome A++

Frivolous Engineering (author)2009-07-22

I hate to complain, but you haven't included a schematic, pcb layout, C code, compiled hex or your spreadsheet. How can we make this?

Sorry, but I agree. I would love some more information. I love it though, would like to do one myself for the summer.

Potatoesgod (author)Potatoesgod2009-07-22

Thanks for the update. Also, the batman picture is pure win, friend.

askjacob (author)2009-07-22

Right now, this is a "this is what I did" page. Now to make it an instructable, you need to enable others to make it too. If your code and schematics are top-secret, even some black box diagrams or flowcharts would help others. Regards Jacob

Zorink (author)2009-07-22

Very cool! Do you have a video?

luke (author)2009-07-22

that is very cool, simple idea using what most people have in there homes any how!! pure genius . also congrats on getting put on!

br3ttb (author)2009-07-22

great idea! this would be awesome for a summer party room. the disco ball is officially dead! Actually, I guess it was already dead. how about: the corpse of the disco ball has been killed again, just to make sure it's not faking!

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