PropHelix - 3D POV Display




People have always been fascinated by holographic representations. There are several ways to do this.

In my project i use a spinning helix of LED strips. There are a total of 144 LEDs that can displays 17280 voxels with 16 colors. The voxels are arranged circularly in 12 levels. The LEDs are controlled by only one microcontroller. Because i have used the APA102 LEDs i need no additional drivers or transistors. So the electronic part is easier to build. Another advantage is the wireless electrical supply. You need no brushes and there is no friction loss.

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Step 1: BOM

See next step for 3d-printed parts

For the drive shaft:

  • 4 pcs. screw M4x40 with 8 nuts and washers4pcs.
  • M3x15 screw for mounting the motor to the plate
  • metal/alu plate 1-2mm, 60x80mm, or another material for mounting the motor
  • 3pcs. M3x15 screw for mounting actuator on the motor
  • Brushless Motor with three M3 holes for actuators (shaft optional/not needed), here is a version with more torque.

  • ESC 10A or more, look at motor specs

For the ESC:

  • Arduino Pro Mini
  • Encoder with button (for regulating the speed)

For the rotor

  • good glue, that the stripes don't fly away
  • heat shrink tube
  • Power Supply 12V 2-3A DC

The Parallax Propeller Microcontroller:

Don't be afraid of this microcontroller, it is a powerful 8-core mcu with 80Mhz and is just as easy to program/flash as an arduino ! There are several Boards on the parallax site available.

Another (my) choice is the CpuBlade/P8XBlade2 from cluso, microSD reader is on board and the binary is bootable without programming !

For programming the propeller and also some arduinos you'll need a USB to TTL adapter board.

Tools I used:

  • Knife
  • soldering station and solder
  • table drill 4+5 mm driller
  • shearing and rasp/file for the breadboards
  • screw wrench 7+8+10 mm
  • hex wrench 2,5mm
  • hammer + center punch for marking the holes for the motor at the metal plate
  • bench vise for bending the metal plate u-shaped
  • 3D printer + PLA filament
  • hot-melt gun
  • several pliers,side cutter

Step 2: 3D Printed Parts

Here you can see the parts i printed from PLA. 12 pieces are required from the spacer.(third part) .This part creates the right angle between the LED boards.

Step 3: Wireless Power and Motor Mount

In this step i show you the wireless powering. These coils are usually used for charging mobile phones. Input voltage is 12V, output 5V. This is ideal for our helix. The max. current is about 2A. 10 Watt is enough for the LEDs. I don't use the maximum brightness of the LEDs and not switch on all LEDs at the same time.

One IMPORTANT thing, use a heatsink for the primary coil PCB because it's getting very hot ! I also use a small Fan for cooling the heatsink.

As you can see i use a prefabricated metal plate for mounting the motor but you can also bend a (alu)plate. Use about 60x60mm for the top and 10x60mm for the side panels. In addition i attached the plate on a heavy wooden block.

Step 4: The Motor/Control

Here is the schematic how to control the motor. I use an arduino with an encoder for speed and a start/stop button. The arduino sketch is also attached. To programm the arduino look at the several instructables here on instructables :-)

The brushless motor is a small 50g type that is left over. I recommand a slightly larger motor.

Step 5: The Helix

is made of 12 stripboards/veroboard, a 5mm hole is drilled in the center. Be sure that there are at least 4 copper strips at the back. The outer copper strips are used for powering the LED strips. The inner copper strips are for DATA and CLOCK and seperated for both sides. One side of the board is the even and the other side is the odd side for the Pixels. Altogether there are 4 groups a 36 LEDs. These 36 LEDs are separated in 6 ones in the first 6 levels . So there is a even/odd and top/bottom group.

Step 6: Helix Schematic

The schematic use an older and bigger fritzing MCU-board because i don't find fritzing templates of newer/current Propeller Boards.

For the LED-control i use The Propeller Microcontroller from Parallax. Two Pins of the micro control 6x6=36 LEDs. So they are 4 LED groups (schematic), from above:

  1. even/bottom
  2. odd/bottom
  3. odd/top
  4. even/top

Software is attached, have a look at my previous instructable (step 4) for programming the Propeller Microcontroller.

Step 7: How Are the Voxels Arranged

In this sheet you can see how the voxels are arranged.

120 frames are produced per turn. Every frame consists of 12x12=144 Voxels, that give us totally 120x144=17280 Voxels. Each Voxel gets 4bit for color so we need 8640 bytes ram.

Step 8: Additional Infos

Be sure that the helix rotates counterclockwise !

It is very important to balance the helix with counterweights before rotating. Use protective goggles and lot of glue for the parts that could "fly away".

The distance between the "Prop edges" is 21mm (if the board has 160mm), angel: 15 degree


  • (May 2, 2017), edit some photos with descriptions

  • (May 3, 2017), add step: How Are the Voxels Arranged

Microcontroller Contest 2017

Runner Up in the
Microcontroller Contest 2017

Design Now: In Motion Contest

Participated in the
Design Now: In Motion Contest

Lights Contest 2017

Participated in the
Lights Contest 2017

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    14 Discussions


    1 year ago

    can u provide which part of code section used for display purpose???like the structure u have displayed .

    2 replies

    Reply 1 year ago

    You find the code in the LED_DRIVER_XXXX.spin files.


    Question 7 months ago

    Does anyone have a rough cost estimate before I start considering a build?


    2 years ago

    Very nice. Using wireless power is a nice idea instead of slip rings or other sort of mechanism.


    2 years ago

    Very good project thank you for proposing and congratulations.
    would like to mount your project but think that a simple arduino Uno or
    mega can replace the card gadget gangster that apparently is not
    I'm in France think that the Parallax Propeller is a 32-Bit 8-Core microcontroller is good for your project. Otherwise this card or the arduino are not suitable could you advise me a map adapted to your project.
    thank you


    2 years ago

    super duper idea!

    Maybe one day we could build high enough resolution of these to make an HD Holo tv@!

    Alex in NZ

    2 years ago

    Amazing! I had read about some volumetric 3-D displays back in the 1990s, but had never seen even a picture of one. This must look stunning in real life.

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    Wow! That's really great! I was going to make +- the same thing (for the same contest I believe lol), but couldn't think of proper 3d alignment for LEDs - helix idea is brilliant!

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    ...although not as new as I thought: . Still, I wouldn't know about it without this project!


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks !

    Of course the rotating helix is not my invention, but those projects are very rare, i've found only 2 projects in the whole net, one is closed source, the other one you found has much more driver stuff, less colors and no more resources for animation/game stuff.

    The microcontroller i use still got 3 cores free, enough to do some cool stuff, but in another project...