Dancing LEDs Promises Maker Christmas and Hacker New Year

Engineering Geek Culture Hacking the Holidays Technology

Imagine with us the following holiday utopia – call it a holopia: You hang LED holiday lights on your house or tree or mother-in-law. You snap a picture with your phone. An app recognizes the distribution of bulbs. And now you can map anything you want onto this imperfect LED grid, from sound sync that pulses along with your thumping holiday tunes, to groovy smooth fades through the rainbow, to scrolling holiday messages, to – be still my beating heart! – a never-ending repeat of Nyan Cat!

That’s the promise of Jarrod Eliason’s Dancing LEDs. Among other projects, Jarrod programmed his home tree to sing along in Santa face to his family’s recording of “We wish you a maker Christmas and a hacker New Year” (above). And while it ain’t quite fit for the retail masses yet, Eliason is looking for a few good alphas to test and potentially even help tweak the system as early as, well, NOW.

“What we’re doing is taking any video or animated GIF, running it through a Windows program to turn it into a light sequence, and then remapping it from the video onto lights,” Eliason says.

He says the current prototype is based on a triangular display, because he didn’t have a good rectangular space on the side of his house. Eliason imagines cities leaving the displays up year-round and changing the colors based on the season. By plugging in a floor display of Dancing LEDs still in their boxes, customers could download a free app and, right there in the store, interact with the LEDs or project a picture of their face onto the display. Businesses could even use them to replace existing, four-sided LED displays.

For now, “It’s kind of in the beginning stages,” Eliason says. “I’ve got prototypes on my desk, and developers working on the app. But we expect to have things to put in people’s hands in the next week.”

Eliason runs it with a Teensy board, and, once he gets schematics and code, he plans to open-source the whole thing. In other words: Makers needed!

And if you happen to be a Colorado geek, you can play with Jarrod’s Dancing LEDs in person at the Boulder Mini Maker Faire, January 31- February 1!

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