Introduction: HackerBox 0052: Freeform

Greetings to HackerBox Hackers around the world! HackerBox 0052 explores the creation of freeform circuit sculptures including an LED chaser example and your choice of structures based on WS2812 RGB LED modules. The Arduino IDE is configured for the Arduino Nano and we experiment with programming ATtiny85 microcontrollers for our freeform sculptures using the Arduino Nano. Mind machines are tested to train brainwaves for relaxation, creativity, and meditation. MOSFET switches are explored for controlling high current loads using simple microcontroller IO pins.

This guide contains information for getting started with HackerBox 0052, which can be purchased here while supplies last. If you would like to receive a HackerBox like this right in your mailbox each month, please subscribe at and join the revolution!

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Step 1: Content List for HackerBox 0052

  • Arduino Nano
  • Twenty WS2812B RGB LED Modules
  • ATtiny85 DIP8 Microcontroller
  • USB LED Lamp (colors vary)
  • 555 Timer Chip
  • CD4017 Counter Chip
  • Solderless Breadboard 400 Point
  • Copper Freeform Sculpting Wire 18G
  • USB Male-Female Cable
  • Stereo 3.5mm Male-Female Cable
  • Stereo 3.5mm PCB Jack
  • Two AOD417 P-Channel MOSFETs
  • Two AOD514 N-Channel MOSFETs
  • 100K Potentiometer
  • 10K Dual-Gang Potentiometer
  • Fifteen Green 5mm LEDs
  • 9V Battery Clip with Wire Leads
  • Three 10uF Electrolytic Capacitors
  • One 1uF Electrolytic Capacitor
  • Two DIP8 Chip Sockets
  • One DIP16 Chip Socket
  • Resistors: 680R, 1.5K, and 4.7K Ohm
  • Keyboard Warrior Hacker Sticker
  • Phish Hook Hacker Sticker
  • Exclusive HackerBox Sport Sunglasses

Some other things that will be helpful:

  • Soldering iron, solder, and basic soldering tools
  • Computer for running software tools

Most importantly, you will need a sense of adventure, hacker spirit, patience, and curiosity. Building and experimenting with electronics, while very rewarding, can be tricky, challenging, and even frustrating at times. The goal is progress, not perfection. When you persist and enjoy the adventure, a great deal of satisfaction can be derived from this hobby. Take each step slowly, mind the details, and don't be afraid to ask for help.

There is a wealth of information for current and prospective members in the HackerBoxes FAQ. Almost all of the non-technical support emails that we receive are already answered there, so we really appreciate your taking a few minutes to read the FAQ.

Step 2: Freeform Circuits

As described by this Hackaday Entry, the technique of assembling circuits without substrate goes by many names: flywire, deadbug, point-to-point wiring, or freeform circuits. Sometimes this technique is used for practical purposes like fixing design errors post-production, but probably more interestingly it is used to create art from electronic circuits.

Usually built up from copper wire, aluminum stock, or brass rods, freeform electronics take on various forms and can be amazingly beautiful and creative as seen in these examples...

Why not share some images and ideas of your own freeform circuit sculpture attempts?

Step 3: Freeform LED Chaser

An interesting circuit for your first freeform sculpture attempt is an LED Chaser like the one shown in this video.

The 18 gauge wire can be formed into place by hand or using pliers.

Heavier parts, such as the 9V battery or the potentiometer can be located at the bottom of the structure to provide a stable base.

DIP sockets can be used for the two IC chips to avoid heat damage while soldering.

Step 4: Arduino Nano

The Arduino Nano is one of favorite MCU modules. We use them for a variety of experiments and DIY systems.

The included Arduino Nano board includes header pins that do not come soldered to the module. Leave the pins off for now. Perform the initial tests on the Arduino Nano module prior to soldering on the header pins. All that is needed is a MiniUSB cable and the Arduino Nano board just as is comes out of the bag.

If you haven't used an Arduino Nano recently, check out the Guide for HackerBox 0051 for information on the Arduino IDE, the CH340G USB/Serial bridge chip, and how to perform the initial "blink" sketch validation of the Arduino Nano module and tool chain. After checking everything out, soldering the header pins onto the Nano.

If you would like additional introductory information for working in the Arduino ecosystem, check out the Guide for the HackerBoxes Starter Workshop, which includes several examples and a link to a PDF Arduino Textbook.

Step 5: Programming ATtiny85 MCU Using Arduino Nano

This video shows how to quickly use the Arduino Nano (running ArduinoISP) and one capacitor to program the ATtiny85 microcontroller from the Arduino IDE.

Step 6: Freeform RGB LED Modules

The RGB LED modules (based on WS2812B components) are a great medium for FREEFORM CIRCUIT SCULPTING especially when driven by the 8pin ATtiny85 MCU. Various structures can be soldered and creative light/color patterns can be programmed into the MCU.

For our example, we installed in the FastLED Library in the Arduino IDE.

Start with the simple sketch:


Just change:

#define LED_PIN to whatever IO pin used for LED "data in"

#define NUM_LEDS to however many LEDs are in the chain

#define BRIGHTNESS to a value around 10-15 to conserve power


#define LED_TYPE to WS2812B

Step 7: Mind Machines

According to wikipedia Mind Machines are also known as "Brain Machines" or "Light and Sound Machines".

Mind Machines usually employ pulsing rhythmic sound and flashing lights to alter the frequency of the user's brainwaves. This can induce deep states of relaxation, concentration, and in some cases altered states of consciousness, which have been compared to those obtained from meditation and shamanic exploration.

Mind Machines can generate signals for pulsing lights embedded in glasses worn by the user who watches the lights through their eyelids with their eyes closed.

Mind Machines also generate audio stimulus including binaural beats, which are perceived at the difference in frequency when two different pure-tone sine waves presented to a listener dichotically (one through each ear). For example, if a 530 Hz pure tone is presented to a subject's right ear, while a 520 Hz pure tone is presented to the subject's left ear, the listener will perceive the auditory illusion of a third tone. The third sound is called a binaural beat, and in this example would have a perceived pitch correlating to a frequency of 10 Hz, which is the difference between the 530 Hz and 520 Hz pure tones presented to each ear.


Rapidly flashing lights may be dangerous for people with photosensitive epilepsy or other nervous disorders. If you are sensitive to flashing lights or have any history of epilepsy, seizures, or other nervous disorders, avoid such devices or any other projects with flashing lights.

Step 8: DIY Mind Machine Platform

A Mind Machine platform can be assembled as shown here using the Arduino Nano programmed with the attached mind_demo sketch. The sketch trains for 9Hz Alpha Brainwaves using lights and binaural beats. Alpha Brainwaves can promote deep relaxation as discussed here. The code can be changed and expanded to explore other brainwave frequencies or training patterns.

Note that the mind_demo requires two libraries: FastLED and ToneLibrary, both of which can be found using Tools > Manage Libraries within the Arduino IDE. The special Tone Library is required because the standard Arduino tone functionality cannot generate two different tones at once.

Two of the WS2812B modules (in a chain of two) are prefect for placing in the sunglass lenses. They can be connected to the controller circuit using the 3.5mm Audio Cable. The 3.5mm Audio Cable can be cut near the female end. The female end is wired to the MCU circuit and the long cord with the male end can be wired to the LEDs in the glasses. This makes a nice pluggable interface for the LED glasses.

Some duct tape or cyanoacrylate works great to affix the LEDs into the glasses. Hot glue usually has a hard time bonding to smooth plastic like sunglass lenses. If you want to sport your Exclusive HackerBox shades as actual shades, just hit your glove box, junk drawer, or local dollar store for some different sunglasses for sacrificing to this project.

The dual-gang audio circuit works well to drive standard earbuds or headphones plugged into the 3.5mm PCB jack.

Step 9: MOSFETs for Switching High-Current Loads

Have you ever wanted to control devices that draw more current than supported by the IO pins on your MCU? How about controlling devices at different voltages than the MCU?

This Andreas Spiess Video is worth watching. Andreas goes through (most of) the gory details of determining what types of transistors we should keep on hand to switch power loads from our digital/MCU projects. He boils it down to having:

N-Channel FETs to switch low-side loads, and

P-Channel FETs to switch high-side loads.

A couple of each are included to experiment with switching a USB load (LED lamp) on and off. Cut open the USB extension cable. Use a P-Channel FET (D and S pins) to switch the red wire (high side). OR use an N-Channel FET (D and S pins) to switch the black wire (low side). Connect the MCU control signal through one of the 680 ohm resistors to the gate (G) pin of the FET and control away! Also try the "magic hands" on the G pin as shown in the video. Note that the "magic hands" only work in one direction, but a quick short of the gate to 5V or GND will flip the FET switch.

After experimenting with these USB power scenarios for FET switching, you can reuse the two USB "pigtails" by putting alligator clips on the red and black wires. The USB socket side can be clipped to a 5V supply and then used to power any USB gizmo that you plug into the socket. The USB plug side can be used to power the clips (and whatever the clips are connected to) from any USB supply or wall wart. These alligator-clip pigtails are useful for a variety of test and measurement scenarios, so you might want to keep them handy on your workbench.

Step 10: Gotta Wear Shades

The future of electronics, computer technology, and information security is so bright, you gotta wear your HackerBox shades.

Remember to share your HackerBox 0052 projects in the comments below or on the HackerBoxes Facebook Group. Also, remember that you can email anytime if you have a question or need some help.

What's Next? Join the revolution. Live the HackLife. Get a cool box of hackable gear delivered right to your mailbox each month. Surf over to and sign up for your monthly HackerBox subscription.