The HypnoLamp Goes to Maker Faire

Portland Dorkbot had a booth at the Bay Area Maker Faire this year. Here’s my first proper invention, the HypnoLamp, alongside the Editor’s Choice award that we received:

HypnoLamp + Editor's Choice Award

Many factors helped birth the HypnoLamp: At Toorcamp 2012, I learned to program microcontrollers. Jeff of OlyMEGA blessed me with addressable LED strips, at the aforementioned event. Jeff was also at the Portland Mini Maker Faire, showcasing (among other things) glass Ikea lamps with LEDs inside. I decided to build my own version!

The lid and base are made of semi-clear white acrylic, which almost matches the frosted glass body.

The hardware and electrical tasks took longer than anticipated. The processor would occasionally snow crash, displaying colored static. I relearned Ohm’s Law and discovered that, when brightly lit, the LEDs were drawing more power than the Arduino’s voltage regulator could handle, which plunged the Arduino into undefined territory. (This was solved by removing the voltage regulator from the board, and supplying power using a regulated 5V 2A power supply.)

Q: Why didn’t you use [insert other microcontroller here]? It’s better!

A: I used the Adafruit DC Boarduino. At the time, I felt this was the best choice, because:

  1. I had prior experience with it,
  2. Adafruit provides an Arduino library for interfacing with the LED strips, and
  3. The beautiful algorithms use floating point arithmetic (which is more conducive to creative coding than using integers), in HSV color space, which is converted to RGB and pushed to the LED strips at 60 updates per second (effectively 60 FPS), and it runs great, with no performance issues, and we can all go home early.

Programming the lamp was a joy. Each animation was tweaked until it was hypnotic, yet subtle enough to accent the room.

Sean Michael Ragan (Technical Editor for Make Magazine) invited two members of Dorkbot to present their inventions to an audience. Before I knew it, I was on stage with Veronica Belmont, demonstrating the HypnoLamp for hundreds of people! This was a competition; who had invented the best gadget? Dorkbot’s own Scott Dixon presented a cell phone screen, repurposed as a bright, ultra-portable display, very nice!

Another maker presented an analog arcade game, which was so novel that I figured it would score an easy victory. However, the audience was so enthusiastic, that Veronica called for a tie-breaker vote between the arcade game, and my lamp. The HypnoLamp just barely did not win. (I believe the sound engineer had to examine the decibel levels on the mixer.) It was extremely close! People cheered for the HypnoLamp, and were excited to talk to me afterwards. I was ecstatic.

The next day, our booth received an Editor’s Choice Award, and an Educator’s Choice Award. We had a great collection of hacks: Thomas Hudson’s Honeybee Counter, Paul Stroffregen’s LED Video Wall with stomp sensors, Jared Boone’s Radio Spectrum Analyzer, etc.

I had long, detailed discussions with people: Can the HypnoLamp interface be improved? Can it be more expressive? Will there be a Kickstarter campaign to manufacture and distribute HypnoLamps around the world? (This looks promising! Seriously, I want to do this. Stay tuned!)

Campfire mode

Thanks to everyone who made my first Maker Faire experience unforgettable.

This is the code that the HypnoLamp was running at Maker Faire. It could use some restructuring, code review, and crufty bits removed. But, it was on the showroom floor for 2 days, and didn’t crash or freeze, so it’s fairly stable. Enjoy!

[Cross-posted to]

7 thoughts on “The HypnoLamp Goes to Maker Faire

  1. Thanks, Martin! The current version uses an Arduino and LPD8806 LED strips. There’s a proof-of-concept video that shows how the LEDs are arranged, before gluing onto an acrylic backing:

    Right now, I’m interested in manufacturing these, and they will likely be programmable/hackable. (The final circuit hasn’t been designed yet.)

  2. Challenge numbah 2: Wrap the light string barber-pole style around an opaque white cylinder inside the lamp, and rejigger your code so that the effects still work. Hey Presto, it’s now viewable from all angles!

  3. Funny you mention that! The topic of LED arrangement has been discussed frequently. For a square glass enclosure, it makes sense to mount LEDs on a central pole. But consider that most lamps aren’t sitting in the center of the room, they’re typically up against a wall.

    So perhaps you don’t have to optimize the view from every angle, and perhaps a square (or circular) enclosure isn’t the optimal shape. Flat square? Flat rectangle? Half-circle arc? Lots of options, and probably saves LEDs and power (which is good when you multiply the savings across a run of, say, thousands of lamps.)

    It’s an interesting problem because the “home lighting revolution” is still brewing, and standard practices haven’t emerged yet.

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