My latest project is officially finished! I made my first set of LED Isis Wings and they are, of course, my new favorite thing ever.
Here they are in action:
The iridescent Wings of Isis are gorgeous on their own, but with the lights they’re really stunning.
The wings have 120 neopixels controlled by a Teensy 3.1 running Arduino. They’ve got bluetooth control (controllable by my Glimmer the Mermaid android app!) and also a clicky thumb switch for changing modes on the fly. It’s on the left, because I am left handed and I like things to be custom like that.
These were pretty labor intensive. I needed them to be really lightweight and also not mind being whacked into things (and people.. you’d think with 120 lights people wouldn’t walk into you, but never underestimate the lack of awareness in people who are busy texting).
I started with individual neopixels from Adafruit and soldered them together into 12 strands of 10 pixels each using 30AWG silicone coated wire. Then I cast each pixel in quick setting Amazing Resin, to keep the pixels from shorting if they touched each other and to provide a lot of strain relief and whack-relief. The resin is white, and I used all white wire, so the light strands really disappear against the white iridescent fabric in the daylight.
Then I laid them all out on the wings in a starfish pattern and used E600 fabric glue to secure each light to the wings. Finally, I used my sewing machine and ran a zig-zag stitch over the wires in between each light to securely fasten each strand to the wings.
That was the easy part. Fabrication always comes easier to me than wiring and coding, but the geeky techie stuff is getting a little easier with each project.
This was my first time using the Teensy micro controller and I must say that I am a convert. This tiny little chip has acres and acres of memory and is really easy to set up and use. It just works! I like that very much.
The HC-05 bluetooth module I’m using is not quite as delightful. It works, no problems there, but I have been unable to get it into AT command mode despite all my (albeit possibly feeble) best efforts. I am having no problems getting it to control the wings for me, but I can’t change its name, which means that as I make more sets of these wings I will have multiple devices all named HC-05 — which makes choosing the correct one from my android tablet rather problematic. I also can’t access some of the other higher functions like using it in master mode instead of slave mode, which sort of bums me out since I had some ideas for that. Oh well.
For power, I’m using a Tenergy Li-Poly 11.1V / 2200mAh battery that connects through a 5V step-down converter. It runs the wings for several hours as long as I’m not screaming at full brightness most of the time. I’m pretty happy with the performance.
I used clicky connectors for everything that attaches the wings to the project box, so the project box can be taken off entirely if I need to wash the wings or if I want to mix and match controllers with multiple sets of wings — since LED strands tend to break no matter how robust you make them, I think this will save my butt at some future date when I turn the wings on right before a gig and realize one of the strands is out.. I can just swap it out with a different set of wings.
Each LED strand is connected to its own pin on the Teensy, so I can run matrix-style animations that march from one side of the wings to the other.
The code I’m using relies heavily on the wonderful FastLED library. I’ve got about 10 modes so far, and am planning to add a lot more. The “fire” mode is currently my favorite, but in five minutes it’ll probably be “rainbow with glitter” again. I also added a mode I call “Gandalf” — glowing bluish white tips — which just makes the nerdy little girl in me wiggle with delight.
I think my favorite mode is whichever one is currently running, actually.
The coding is the hardest part for me, and probably the least interesting aspect of the wings to anyone who’s not a coder. My hubby just rolls his eyes whenever I spend 3 hours trying to get an animation juuuuust right — it looks the same to him as it did before I started. But, it makes me happy, and I’m learning a lot, so I’m going to keep tweaking on it. And I’m continually amazed and impressed with the FastLED Google+ Community for all the coding help and sharing that goes on. These guys are doing Internet the right way.
And, if and when I can get the lights to dance seamlessly with the music, I will have Made Good Art. 🙂
Isis wings traditionally strap around the performer’s neck for support, but with this giant battery and all these lights they are WAY too heavy for that. I felt like I was being strangled with all that weight pressing right on my throat. So I made a little backpack with clear straps to house all the electronics and the battery, and lined it with duvetyne fire retardant cloth just in case my battery decides to get antsy and explode or anything.
All together I am pleased as punch with how gorgeous these are. I’ve got lots of fun modes working and have choreographed my first full-song-length animation sequence. I have a show on New Year’s Eve booked where we’ll be dancing with two sets of wings together and I can’t wait to get to choreographing that piece.. I suspect it’s going to be spectacular.
(Book us for events too at firepixie.com)