Human VU Meter

About: UC Berkeley math student who really likes tinkering with electronics and artificial intelligence applications.

This is a very simple project you can wire together and make you the life of the party! We feature a LightBlue Bean+ but you can use any arduino-like dev board to recreate this project.

Step 1: Components

For this project, we need a small board that is portable, requires minimal power, and can handle powering all the fairy light LED strings. We found that a Light Blue Bean is a great board for this use case. It has a small rechargeable lithium ion battery already soldered on to keep the board powered and plenty of analog/digital pins to control each section. If you need to power it for a long time, it is easy to carry a battery pack like this one to plug in and charge.

As mentioned, you'll need plenty of string LEDs, enough to cover your entire body. We got three of the string LEDs listed in the components list above in green, yellow, and red. You'll also need plenty of thread and wire to attach the lights to fabric and connect all the sections together.

Here is a list of all the materials you'll need:

Step 2: Test Small VU Meter

To start, we'll make a small version of our VU meter with a couple of breadboard LEDs and the Light Blue Bean to check how the code will work.

Here is the wiring needed to set up a mini version of our costume. It'll have 10 bands so we'll use 10 LEDs to simulate each channel. The electret microphone is connected to the first analog pin of the bean and each LED has its own digital pin, in color order. If you chose to go with an arduino, the wiring is exactly the same- choose 10 digital pins for the LEDs and choose A0 as the analog pin for the microphone breakout.

The Light Blue bean connects over bluetooth to your mobile devices and uses the Bean Loader app to upload code. Download this app on your device and upload this code via the app.

If you're using an arduino, use the Arduino IDE to upload the code to your device.

Take a note of the line input=input/3 line. Experiment with the denominator to play with the VU meter's sensitivity. Smaller numbers makes it less sensitive, larger numbers will make it more sensitive.

Once wired and code uploaded, you should have something that looks like the gif in this step.

Step 3: Constructing the Costume

Plan out your string led sections like the images show below. We cut 9 sections of green LEDs for the pants, three sections of yellow LEDs for the mid section on the shirt, and 3 sections of red LEDs for the top of the shirt and sleeves.

We want each band to be switching on together, so the bands will be wired in pairs for the pants. Therefore each pair will be a band which means we have 5 green bands for the pants. The 3 yellow LED sections don't need to be separated on the shirt so that leaves us with 3 yellow bands. Each arm will need a red string LED and since we have 3 sections, we'll have 2 red bands.

Flip the clothes inside out and start laying out each section. Use a needle and thread to secure each section of LED to the fabric. Make sure to not bunch up the fabric so the clothing can retain its shape! Here's an example of two green bands sewed onto the pant legs.

You'll need long sections of wire to reach the all the way to the back pocket area. Keep this in mind as you're attaching wires to each section of LEDs, particularly those LED sections far away from the back pockets.

Wire each section with long wire to reach the back pocket. Make a small hole in the back pocket to thread the wires through.

Check out the pant diagram and shirt image attached to see how each section is sewn on.

For quick iteration, we used a breadboard to connect everything together. We suggest you solder all the wires to a pcb board before you take it out for heavy movement.
We stuffed all the wires and board with microphone in the back pocket of the pants shown in the last image of this step.

Step 4: Finishing Up

When you are done, turn the clothes inside out again to show the smooth surface.

Congrats! You have a VU meter costume. If you used the LightBlue bean, you can adjust the VU meter code while you're out so you can play with the sensitivity of the lights, or even program a new light show on the spot! Otherwise, keep playing with the sensitivity of your VU meter until you reach the desired results. Here's a video first experiment with the costume indoors with some music.

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