Here’s an up-close look at some of the components going into the anthrolume project.
The star of the anthrolume show has to be these bitchin’ smart LEDs.
On one side there’s a surface-mount RGB LED good for up to 6,000 mcd of brightness. They are 0.49″ square.
The “smart” part about MinMs is that on the other side of the PCB is a tiny Atmel ATtiny45 microcontroller. That’s right, each LED has its own computer. And there’s direct support for a simple kind of serial network, called I2C, that allows multiple MinM LEDs on an I2C network to be individually addressed.
The firmware on the LED’s computer understands a very simple binary language. A handy aspect of this is that you can just tell the LED what color to be (with a simple command), and it will stay that color, which dramatically simplifies the circuitry necessary for a project like the anthrolume.
Naturally such a sophisticated display device comes at a price – more than $10 USD each in small quantities. So these LEDs are by far the largest part of the cost of the anthrolume project.
My current plans call for the use of an Arduino Uno microcontroller for this project. The Arduino line of microcontrollers have become very popular worldwide, and are built-in to quite a few art installations. They are inexpensive, easy to interface, and are quite powerful.
The board is based on an Atmel ATmega328 microprocessor. It has a USB computer interface for programming and debugging, a and bunch of digital and analog I/O. They are typically programmed with a C-like language that makes doing I/O very simple. The board has built-in support for I2C networking, which can directly talk to the MinM LEDs descibed above.
There’s a solid open-source community around these controllers, and a lot of software libraries, sensors, and compatible hardware and software are out there for the use of hobbyists and artists.