Introduction: [Hack] Light Into the Night, and Maybe Even Party

This instructable was made for the January Build Night with Cool Neon.

Taiwan is full of neon lights, a very natural setting for the local culture: the bustling night markets, the multitude of stores, the sights, the traffic. Thus building with electroluminescent (EL) wire is really something that fits in here.

This build is first to get acquainted with the EL wire, make a logo not unlike the ones on the street, then make it beat to the music - because why not?

Required parts:

  • Some kind of board to mount the display on
  • See-through sticky tape
  • Marker to sketch out the display on the board
  • A tool to make holes in the board
  • Arduino (we've used Arduino Leonardo)
  • Cool Neon EL wire, a few of those
  • Cool Neon Arduino Shield
  • Power driver + AAA batteries
  • USB cable (to connect the Arduino)
  • Computer (Arduino programming + interactivity)
  • Some music

Step 1: Start With a Board, Wire the Edge

Find a suitable sized board. We used one from a shopping mall decoration, a foam board with pretty tough outside to keep it stable.

Wrap one of the EL wires around the edge, that will be the outline of the sign. Secure it with clear tape generously. The tape will let the light through but make sure that the wire won't fall off.S

Step 2: Wire the Text

As a guidance, you can draw your desired text on the front of the board with a marker pen (or I think we had whiteboard marker, that comes off easily too, if corrections needed). We wired HACK (because "HACKERSPACE" is too long :P )

For ease of assembly, use straight lines for the letters. Or at least straight line segments. Find good positions on the text where the wire can be threaded through to the back, so it doesn't have to be a continuous line all the way.

Use a too, like a thick screwdriver, to punch holes at those places that you determined. Thread the wrire along the path, secure it with clear sticky tape. Can use that generously, as in the dark that will not show at all.

In our setup, HA and CK are two separate pieces of EL wire, so can control them separately. If you have patience - and lots of spare EL wire -, you can use a separate wire for each of the letters.

Try to ensure that the connecting end of the used wires are equally long for easier plug in to the Arduino shield.

Step 3: Test the Wire and Blink

Test the wire by hooking up to the Arduino shield (and the driver+batteries too). Example code to run the shield and test its functionality can be found at the Google Code page for the Cool Neon Shield.

The driver had some issues for us, and had to use it in "blink" mode which turns on and off the power supply for the lights, and thus the light is not just controlled by the Arduino. Ideally it should be used in "on" mode for complete Arduino control, still working on a bugfix.

After testing wires in general, hook up the board you made. The wire connections from left to right are accessed via the Arduino digital pins 2 to 13, and LOW output lights up a channel, while HIGH turns a channel off. Can see the pattern the EL wire should display on the pattern debugger LED lights.

For this testing, we set up a small program that randomly turns on/off each of the 3 wires, and then waits for a random amount of time between light updates. Arduino source code for the blinking lights:

The attached video shows how this looks like.

Step 4: Bonus: Party With Beats

As a bonus, can use this display to beat to a music.

  • Use a Python program to play a .wav file through the speakers, and in the same time analyze the spectral composition
  • Based on the signal in the different spectral part of the music, send signal to the Arduino to turn on or off different lights (eg. Light 1 is on if there's a lot of power in low frequency sounds, otherwise off)

To make this look better, added two more wires (to have a total of 5) to the display.

The Python program is playing a .wav file. If you don't have one, can convert an mp3 into that (google how to do it in general, on Linux you can use the "mpg123 -w outfile.wav original.mp3" command (with the correct input and output filenames).

The source code for the Python control and the Arduino receiver:

Hope you enjoy the display in the attached video!