Top hats are cool; just like bow ties. Not only are they stylish, but they give you a lot of room for incorporating techno goodness. I recently had cause to buy a tuxedo, which necessitated a kilt, and then a top hat. You know how it goes. To the tux I added silver buttons, the kilt was exemplary on its own, so only the top hat needed some flash. I decided that since my head is generally in the stars, I should try filling my hat with stars. Initially I was going to use an arduino and some 1W white LEDs hanging off the PWM lines, and feeding the light through fiber optic lines, to create a twinkling effect. By the time I started work on the project I realized that I wanted colors, and that 1W LEDs were going to drain my LiPo battery pretty darn fast. Multiple color LEDs on a single arduino is a bit of a problem, though. There are only six PWM channels, so I would max out at two RGB LEDs. Fortunately I had a few sample Total Control Lighting control chips from Cool Neon in my kit, and with a little hacking they are perfect light sources for this project. Each TCL chip is a latching, addressable, three-channel PWM controller; so I can control a near infinite number of RGB LEDs from a single arduino. Hat space is limited though, so I settled on four; that provided sufficient variety. The end result of my project is a super-stealth techno-mage top hat that looks amazing when it is turned on, and completely normal when it is turned off. I can wear it to Dicken's Chrismas Fair and nobody will notice, or to That Thing In The Desert where everyone will notice; one hat for all occasions.
I built this project on-site at Burning Man, with only the tools and parts I had in my travel kit. You should be able to complete this project in two days, accounting for glue drying, using easily available parts for less than $200.
tl;dr This article will walk you through every step necessary for adding multi-color dynamic fiber optic lighting to your hat, or any other project to which you want to give a star field effect.
tags: SteamPunk, Arduino, TopHat, LEDs, TCL, PWM
Step 1: Parts
Almost everything used to make this project is 'off the shelf'. While something may not already be in your toolkit, there isn't anything here that will be hard to find or for which you won't be clever enough to make a substitution. :)
- Top Hat (Amazon) ($79) - Optical fibers (I used 156 x .03" fibers I had in my kit, cut to around 12") (ebay) (1' = $12.95) (For my most recent hat, I purchased my surplus fiber from this guy on eBay. Here's a link to his store.) - 4x Cool Neon TCL controller chips (Not on their website, but $2 w/LED if you call them directly) (4x$2 = $8) - 4x 8mm RGB common anode LEDs. (Got mine from Cool Neon, paired with the TCL controller chips) - 2000mAh Lithium Polymer rechargeable battery (Cool Neon / Seeed Studios) ($12) - LiPo Rider recharging module (Cool Neon / Seeed Studios) ($9.50) - Seeeduino (Cool Neon / Seeed Studios) ($27) - 40-pin IDE cable (junk drawer) - bits of velcro (Home Despot) - 1/4" heat-shrink tubing (Cool Neon - Ask, and they'll throw some in with your order.) - 2x short USB to USB-mini cables - 3"x2" piece of cardboard