The New Year’s mood is still in the air, although at the Noosphere Engineering School we are already mapping out plans for 2016! One of the items on our list is to keep our subscribers more informed on what is happening with our student's progress.
Today we are going to talk about an LED sphere at the heart of a project by Alexey Kvasnikov and Sergey Tishchenko, students of the Robotic Technology and Electronics Lab, “Arduino Controllers” program.
The functional principle of “Magic globe” is the capacity of the human eye to rapidly connect moving images into a single static picture. As the sphere-shaped device spins, people will see the picture emerge.
This sphere can be used for presentations, exhibitions and conferences where it is necessary to visualize a logo or an advertising slogan. However the team hasn't set their sights on mass production yet as they have developed the project exclusively for Noosphere.
Hi, guys! How did you get the idea of creating the LED sphere?
Alexey: The idea was born within the walls of the Noosphere Engineering School. We were first trained to operate the microcontrollers. Then, we were required to put what we had learned into practice. We started thinking of a project that it would be exciting to implement. The decision was not easy. We found the prospect of developing a project using LEDs to be very tempting. This project requires many different aspects to develop: programming of microcontrollers, electronics and mechanics.
Tell us about your team. How have you distributed the responsibilities? Who has assisted you in development of the device?
Sergey: The team of developers consists of just the two of us. We have clearly defined responsibilities. I wrote a program for the globe and Alexey developed the mechanics and electronics.
Alexey: Mikhail Fesenko and Igor Gomilko, Mentors of our school, are assisting us. Mikhail provided assistance mostly in mechanics and electronics, and Igor in programming.
How much time did it take to move from the idea to its implementation?
Alexey: In March, 2015 we started on the project and in December, 2015 we had a fully working prototype. So it took us eight months.
What did your everyday work look like? How much time did you devoted to the project? Sergey: In different ways. We worked on the project at home as well as at the Engineering school. Sometimes we stayed out of Noosphere for weeks: we developed the project at home when the we could do everything with just a computer. There were some periods when we came to the school in the morning and left after 10 pm. When you are inspired by an idea your time flies without you noticing it.
Would you, please, single out the key stages of the product development?
On the way towards the working prototype we went through the five key stages, as follows:
1. Idea - its presentation to the school mentors and their approval
2. Software development and purchase of components
3. Development of electronics
4. Development of mechanics
5. Prototype debugging
Every stage was quite involved. However the stage of mechanics development required more effort. We have rebuild it 7 times.
Initially, we planned to make all details of plastic and printed them on a 3D printer. The first few times we even failed to assemble them together as the printer did not print them accurately.
After we managed to print the mechanism without errors, we ran into another problem. Spinning the mechanism heated the device that caused the plastic to melt and the device fell apart. This was the third (out of seven) version of the experiment with mechanical designs.
Eventually, we concluded that we needed to make it from metal. We made every component that heated up during operation out of metal. Only the casing was printed on a 3D printer.
Please, describe the mechanism: what does it consist of and how does it work?
Sergey: The device consists of software, LEDs, an LED controller and the microchip which regulates the light emission capacity of each LED channel. Every LED has three colors – green, red and deep blue. Combining these colors in different ratios produces any other color.
In order to understand the principle of how it operates, we should first explain what the image it and how we see it. The image is a two-dimensional dot matrix. When we look at this matrix from a distance, we see the whole picture.
Traditional screens have a matrix which set-up parameters of height and width, and we have just one column which is constantly on the move. To build a picture we need to illuminate the first column then move it and illuminate the second column, etc. Therefore, the pixel columns are sequentially drawn in space and we see a picture.
What are the distinctive features of the project?
Sergey: The main distinctive feature and competitive advantage of the project is that the device can be controlled via a computer or smartphone through Wi-Fi. For example, we can adjust image brightness and modify the picture.
The images, which are recorded on a flash drive in bmp format, can be displayed on the globe and can be changed in just a few seconds.
The picture which is drawn can consist of two components. The first one is a cylinder which is convenient to display text information. The second component is a sphere which can display background images. Because the cylindrical surface goes beyond the spherical one, it let us display so that one picture looks like it is hovering over the other one.
The required dimensions of the pictures are: for the cylinder – 25 px in height and 70 px in width, for the sphere – 75 px in height and 120 px in width.
Using the sphere at the presentation of the project at the Engineering School we showed off the national flag and coat of arms of Ukraine as well as the motto “Slava Trudu!” (Glory to Labor!).
Besides the sphere, what product form are you able to create?
Alexey: We can create any form provided that it is symmetrical as we are dealing with a spinning mechanism. For example, we can create a Christmas Tree as a symbol of the New Year. The creation of a new form will take much more time than just changing the picture because we will need to make a board with LEDs starting from scratch.
What is the cost of the components and finished products if we don’t take into account your effort?
Alexey: The net cost of the prototype was about 5,000 UAH. However if we do it again without “trials and errors” the cost will be almost a quarter less.
What is the unique feature of your invention?
Alexey: This idea is not absolutely new. You can find similar products on the Internet. Nevertheless, we invented some additional “goodies” which no one has ever done in CIS, as follows:
1. Tricolored LEDs;
2. Wi-Fi control;
3. Work carried out directly with raster images recorded on flash drive instead of the ones firmly embedded in the microcontroller of the image.
All projects, that have been developed previously are behind in a critical nuance: to demonstrate a new program, they need to redevelop the program. In our device, we just copy the picture to a flash drive and the sphere displays it immediately. To replace the picture the user just needs to have some programming skills.
Have you already thought about any applications for the LED sphere?
Sergey: Our plans were to create just one specimen, as a unique product for the Noosphere Engineering School. Initially we intended to make something useful for Noosphere in order to pay them back for all the advantages that Noosphere provides us.
Concerning further applications of the globe, it can be installed anywhere in the city. We can make a promotion and display different pictures. I believe it can awake a lot of interest.
It is a unique advertising device. Usually people use LED screens or just billboards and we are able to offer an interactive sphere.
However, for such an order we will need to improve on the mechanics and electronics.
How do you see yourself in future? Let's say in 10 years?
Alexey: I would like to continue development in the area of electronics and low-level programming. There are many growth directions on this path. The more I delve in it the more questions I have.
I also have a dream to establish a hardware-startup.
Sergey: I also intend to develop in this direction and to create the architecture for such solutions. When I need to, I am able to develop a system. Now we are interested in military systems and other innovative solutions. I am eager to become an engineer dealing both with hardware and software.
We hope Sergey and Alexey realize their dreams! Many thanks to our mentors who help the guys come closer to their professional goals!