Battle the Sun with a 21W LED and a Raspberry Pi

Lighting up an LED or an array of LEDs and controlling their brightness is a simple affair with the tiny credit card sized single board computer popularly known as the Raspberry Pi or the RBPi. The RBPi runs a full version of Linux and you can use it to drive an array of bright LEDs with it. If you construct it like Jeremy Blum did – he put up the LEDs on his graduation mortar board and wore the RBPi on his wrist on his graduation day – you can be sure of getting a lot of excited remarks from friends and onlookers.

Jeremy wanted to let others interact with the LED on his cap. Therefore, he developed the idea of “Control my Cap” project. His control system consists or a wrist computer comprising an RBPi together with an LCD/button interface. That allows Jeremy to monitor the status of the cap, adjust the brightness of the LEDs, change the operation mode and toggle the wrist backlight. If there is any trouble in connecting with the LED interface, the reasons will be listed on the LCD.

The RBPi is programmed to connect automatically to a list of pre-allowed WPA-protected Wi-Fi hotspots as soon as it is booted. This allows Jeremy to set the wrist interface and the LEDs to a web-controlled mode, let the LEDs take on a static color or have them follow a rainbow color pattern. The cap has a total of 16 LEDs, rated at 350mA each, with four each of Red, Green, Blue and White in four strings. A constant current driver that has a PWM control drives each string of LEDs. A separate on-board switching controller generates the 5V for the RBPi.

As the whole project is portable, a battery powers it. Jeremy used a laptop backup rechargeable battery for his project. At full brightness, the array of LEDs consumes a total power of 21W and is easily visible is bright sunlight. With an 87 Watt-hr. capacity, the battery is able to power the cap for an entire day and more. Additionally, it has a 5V USB port, which Jeremy uses for charging his phone.

Jeremy put up a mobile website to allow anyone to submit colors for the color queue of the cap to be used in the web-controlled mode. In this mode, the wrist computer grabs the 10 most recently submitted colors from the mobile site constantly, displaying them on the cap. Additionally, when using a color set for the first time, the RBPi informs the requester by a tweet that their color combination is about to be displayed. The RBPi communicates with the cap via a single USB cable, which doubles as it power supply cable as well.

Jeremy used the FoxFi app on his Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone to generate a Wi-Fi hotspot and the RBPi was able to connect to the Internet through this. The remote webserver hosting the website also stores the color requests in an MYSQL database, which the RBPi queries for updating its commands.