Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jar o' Fireflies

I've seen a few good examples of micro controller controlled fireflies "in a jar" and I wanted to try this for myself. This is by no means a new idea (just take a look at this youtube search and you'll see tons of examples) but I like the idea and I'd already got the basic set-up (see my previous post on AVR programming). All I needed to do was work out the programming (the wiring seems pretty obvious - wire LEDs to uC, wire uC to battery).

What I wanted to do was use all the ATtiny13's 6 output pins to control 6 "fireflies". I'd be happy with just randomly pulsing green LEDs, but I thought it was important to have the LEDs pulse on and off rather than just switch on an off. Here's a youtube video showing fireflies in New York as an example of how the real thing looks. I have a very fond memory of sitting out on a boulder with my brother in Nepal and looking out at a hillside with thousands of fireflies blinking away; we stayed there for ages captivated by the hypnotic display.

So, the standard way to create pulses with an AVR seems to be with pulse width modulation (PWM). Unfortunately mine only has 2 PWM outputs and I wanted to use the parts on hand. A quick search brought up a few possible solutions, but this post on Kevin Mehall's blog was the winner for me. I ended up implementing a software PWM solution based on the code Kevin made public - thanks, Kevin! I've not quite worked out the best way to post code on blogger, when I do I'll post the actual code.

Here's an overview of the parts that went into the project:

The jar was found in the local Savers, the perf board was bought on eBay as were the IC socket, uC, green LEDs and battery pack (all in batches of 10 or more). The wire on the bottom left was scavenged from a broken kids princess wand. The hair clip was an interloper.

My lovely missus decided to improve my project by drawing a few fireflies on shrinkydinks so that I could glue them onto the LEDs after the project was finished:

Here's some photo pr0n of the project in various stages of completion:

And here's something we bought to scare the fireflies:

We got these from Lowes; I think the kids enjoy the venus fly traps much more than the fireflies... c'est la vie.

And, finally, a little video. The flicker isn't actually as bad in real life as it appears in the video, hopefully I'll find a way to remove it completely.

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

At least it's not only me that posts pictures of a project being set up with a nice cup of tea prominently in shot.