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Old 05/12/2010, 12:46 PM   #1
der_wille_zur_macht
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Who wants a cheap, simple, Arduino-based LED controller?

Since the Hydra project is essentially a do-it-all reef controller with lots of functionality onboard AND lots of expandability, it seems like there's a gap in the DIY LED/controller communities. Many people want to JUST control LEDs. Maybe one or two other simple processes, but mostly control LEDs. Currently it seems that there's no simple way to do this for people who aren't super-experienced in the electronics hobby. IMHO there shouldn't be this type of knowledge requirement to do this sort of thing.

Right now, these people have the following choices:

1) Build totally from scratch. Seems overwhelming for most people.
2) Follow the Hydra or another purpose-designed reef controller. This is usually overkill if you just want LED control, AND too complicated.
3) Get an off the shelf Arduino (Duemilanove or compatible), add some minimal other functions (LCD, RTC, etc.). This is more expensive than it should be and a bit of a waste of capacity. I've walked a few people through this and it makes me cringe that they're spending $20 on an RTC from sparkfun, and $30 on a Duemilanove, and $20 on an LCD, etc. You should be able to build the entire thing (parts cost) for the price of a Duemilanove!

So, I set out to design a purpose-built LED controller, based on the Arduino platform. It's an all-in-one package. You won't need anything else, in most cases. It will control most (all?) popular LED drivers, including buckpucks and Meanwell ELNs (both types.)

Right now, the design is finished and PCBs and parts are ordered for the prototypes. The PCBs are on the slow boat from China so it'll be a month or more before I have a working prototype, but once I do, my intent is to use a very small subset of the software we put together for the Hydra, such that people can just upload it and go - no need to even LOOK at the code. Basic LED functions (when they come on, go off, fading, etc) will be controllable through a few buttons and a small LCD.

The hardware includes:
1) An ATMega processor (you could use the 168 or 328, the requirements are minimal).
2) basic "Arduino" hardware (crystal, caps, etc.)
3) Onboard 16x2 LCD
4) 4 buttons for input/configuration
5) an RTC so it keeps the time
6) onboard 5v and 10v sources
7) convenient pin headers for connecting different types of drivers (5v or 10v)
8) FTDI header for reprogramming (which shouldn't be required for regular use)
9) an I2C header, because it's a convenient way to expand functionality if people want to go crazy

Other people have done similar projects, and I say this with complete respect for those efforts, but they all strike me as too complicated, too expensive, etc. From the perspective of just controlling LEDs, I'd even make that judgement of our own efforts here on the Hydra project. Meanwhile, this device is JUST meant to be a simple, easy to assemble and easy to use PWM controller for LED drivers.

Stay tuned!


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Old 05/12/2010, 01:12 PM   #2
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I would love to see just a simple controller for main LEDs, moonlights, and hood fans. Couple simulations would be cool also. Maybe cloudy day, lightning, bright sunny day, reduce lighting to cut back on algae mode, etc...

Are you going to use PWM and 0-10v for dimming?

I going to do my best to follow and build along with this one ... Jeff


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Old 05/12/2010, 01:56 PM   #3
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This sounds pretty interesting...

So, you are saying that it should be at about a $30.00 price point?


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Old 05/12/2010, 02:02 PM   #4
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I'm pretty excited to see this come together. Definately tagging along!


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Old 05/12/2010, 02:12 PM   #5
TheFishMan65
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Joining in. I was already thinking along this lines since the lights are above the tank (pendant) and I saw Hydra as below the tank. I don't want anymore wires than are really needed to be visible.


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Old 05/12/2010, 02:16 PM   #6
TheFishMan65
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Is this where you need a name? Might I suggest 'bunyip" and Australian Rainbow Serpent.
WIKI reading

[EDIT]
I read a little further in WIKI "The Rainbow Serpent is known as Ngalyod by the Gunwinggu and Borlung by the Miali", I kind of like Gunwinggu too.



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Old 05/12/2010, 03:09 PM   #7
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I was thinking about an Arduino-based moonlight control, that would simulate the lunar cycle.


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Old 05/12/2010, 04:57 PM   #8
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People get real !
The practicality and versatility of an Arduino build is what attracts most people to this kind of projects.
How many fish or corals of more than $20 you bought and they died ?
The biggest investment is time ! To build one of these controllers you need less than $100., but ... more than two or three weeks of work if you know what you are doing. If not, go buy a commercial one. To build this one you need hardware & software knowledge as well and regardless how much I wouldn't like to say it, it is not a DIY project for everyone.
So, if you are to invest the time do it the way you take advantage of the full potential of such kind of project. You will alway need more digital pins, you will always think about more complex scenarios and the more you do it the easier this hobby will be.

I built one of the first controllers (reefprojects.com) a year or so ago and it has been working flawlessly since. I have expanded two weeks ago using a Mega, 16 controlled outlets, pH, ORP, temp, two float switches, etc. and I could not be more satisfied. It was more than $100 though, but way less than a commercial version.

Always remember that what satisfies you today will not tomorrow (Kano model).

hope it helps,
Marian

PS. No intention to argue with anyone, just a point of view.


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Old 05/12/2010, 05:52 PM   #9
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very cool. I was thinking of coming up with something like this with a touch screen though.


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Old 05/12/2010, 06:13 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaLi View Post
People get real !
The practicality and versatility of an Arduino build is what attracts most people to this kind of projects.
How many fish or corals of more than $20 you bought and they died ?
The biggest investment is time ! To build one of these controllers you need less than $100., but ... more than two or three weeks of work if you know what you are doing. If not, go buy a commercial one. To build this one you need hardware & software knowledge as well and regardless how much I wouldn't like to say it, it is not a DIY project for everyone.
So, if you are to invest the time do it the way you take advantage of the full potential of such kind of project. You will alway need more digital pins, you will always think about more complex scenarios and the more you do it the easier this hobby will be.

I built one of the first controllers (reefprojects.com) a year or so ago and it has been working flawlessly since. I have expanded two weeks ago using a Mega, 16 controlled outlets, pH, ORP, temp, two float switches, etc. and I could not be more satisfied. It was more than $100 though, but way less than a commercial version.

Always remember that what satisfies you today will not tomorrow (Kano model).

hope it helps,
Marian

PS. No intention to argue with anyone, just a point of view.
This seems like it fills the gap between commercial and diy.


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Old 05/12/2010, 06:33 PM   #11
MaLi
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stage3-s4 View Post
very cool. I was thinking of coming up with something like this with a touch screen though.
That's where it starts getting $$, but ha ... cool and what a great satisfaction !

My two cents: Ideally we should start building a modular one for all budgets and needs.
The base: Arduino, RTC (for time) and power pack. Rest is part of the imagination !


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Old 05/12/2010, 06:59 PM   #12
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Tagging along... Food for thoughts for my touch screen controller


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Old 05/12/2010, 07:08 PM   #13
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I'm still geeked about it! I already have a RKE that will do all the other stuff but my ALC that is hooked up to it to control my LED's is falling short of my expectations. I kick myself for buying the ALC and not the Arduino.


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Old 05/12/2010, 07:08 PM   #14
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I'm in. I've got a Audrino here already...and a LCD to go with it, but haven't gathered the rest of my components. I was looking at following the build on Ultimate Reef, but will most likely follow this one instead.

Scott


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Old 05/12/2010, 07:18 PM   #15
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DWIZUM!

Sign me up as a beta tester my man!


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Old 05/12/2010, 08:17 PM   #16
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A. I couldn't be happier someone is going to create a modest controller that will appeal to the wallet

B. I'll take two when they're ready!


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Old 05/13/2010, 05:14 AM   #17
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Subscribing!


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Old 05/13/2010, 06:10 AM   #18
der_wille_zur_macht
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaLi View Post
My two cents: Ideally we should start building a modular one for all budgets and needs.
The base: Arduino, RTC (for time) and power pack. Rest is part of the imagination !
See the Hydra project I linked above - that's more or less our goal there. Build a "core" hardware and software library that let people construct a full-scale reef controller. Though it also has Ethernet hardware and a pH amp onboard, since it seems people who want a full-blown reef controller also want that stuff most or all of the time.

To reiterate, this project is *NOT* intended to be a full blown reef controller. It IS intended to control a few channels of LED drivers, and maybe some other stuff if you get creative (hence why I brought out an I2C header.) This definitely won't be all things to all people, and it probably won't be a very satisfying project for people who are well versed in this sort of thing and can do it themselves, because it'll seem overly simplistic. It's mainly intended for the people who have some basic tinkering/soldering experience but don't have a clue how to design and build a microcontroller - i.e. it's intended to make the entry point into the "microcontrollers for reef use" hobby a little more attainable.

Someone above picked up that I hinted at a $30 price point - to be clear, that's a very rough estimate based on parts cost. It'll be nice if it ends up being a cheap thing for people to build, but as someone else pointed out above, this isn't a cheap hobby, and price isn't the main driver here.

The design is made to plug in to the back of this display:

http://www.moderndevice.com/products/16x2-blue-lcd

There are tons of other 16x2 displays that are pin compatible, but I'm linking this one to help people visualize. The LCD will plug in to a pin header on the board, and the board has holes for standoffs that line up with the LCD's holes, so they can be screwed together. Basically, the bottom edge of the controller PCB will stick out below the LCD, and will have a row of buttons on it. The power jack and headers for programming (FTDI), I2C, and LED driver(s) will stick out the "sides" underneath the LCD.

I thought about modeling it in one of those 3d circuit rendering tools (i.e. fritzing) but I might as well just wait until the prototypes get here and I can build it for real.


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Old 05/13/2010, 07:16 AM   #19
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Der,

You hit the nail on the head here....and I thank you for starting this thread. I'm in the boat you described, I'm a tinkerer, I can solder, but I have no idea how to design a electrical circuit. I'm not looking for a full blown controller yet, just something to run my lights.

I'm going to throw this out for you to look at. Yes it would raise the price a little and add to the complexity, but it is already designed for the Arduino and gives you more lines to use, plus a joystick. Just another thought. http://www.nuelectronics.com/estore/...products_id=12

Again thanks, and I'll be following closely.

Scott


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Old 05/13/2010, 07:29 AM   #20
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Neogenocide,

I like it. I am not sure how much more it is since the price was 10 pounds. DWZM was 9 dollars. However we still need to add the price of buttons and logic to support them. So they may be equal. A few points against it. It is out of stock so is there a second source? With out multiple sources I am not sure it is the best thing to design in. Off in search of more sources


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Old 05/13/2010, 07:50 AM   #21
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It looks like it was around $23 when I ordered mine. The joystick and button are built in. I had to wait a bit to get mine.... they sell out fast as I think it's pretty popular for projects being built in Europe. Hence my Ultimate Reef build reference earlier in the thread. I just can't make heads or tails of the mod needed to make it work with the Meanwell drivers, as that design was initially built for buckpucks. It's my lack of circuit design that is hindering me. i honestly haven't spent much time on it yet as I'm still finishing up my fixture to put my LED's in. They are still propped on 2x4's above the tank.

Scott


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Old 05/13/2010, 07:56 AM   #22
der_wille_zur_macht
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Neo, There's at least one (maybe more?) design similar to what I'm doing that uses a screen like that, if folks are interested in going that route. As with many DIY things, there are a billion "good" solutions, so it's more a matter of picking your taste rather than there being a single "best" for everyone.

Also, there are about eleventybillion sources for that Nokia screen, though of course not all of them have the interface hardware and joystick that nu's does. The bare screen usually doesn't have a backlight with it either but it can be had dirt dirt cheap (like $5). It's a little more of a pain to design around, and while it would be "nice" to have, I don't think it's the kind of effort I want to include in a low-end "easy" project.

To be honest, half the reason I did this design was to give myself something to tinker with in between working on the Hydra, so even if no one else uses it, it'll fulfill that role nicely. The other half of the reason was that people without hobby electronics experience PM me all the time with questions like "how do I use the Arduino just to control LEDs?" and I wanted to have a default answer that didn't involve excess or spending more than you should have to.


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Old 05/13/2010, 08:00 AM   #23
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understandable Der.......I plan on following whatever you post here. I just threw it out there as a option.

Scott


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Old 05/13/2010, 08:21 AM   #24
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It's a really tempting option. But at some point you have to move from considering options to actually building something, and I'm beyond that point since the hardware is already ordered.


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Old 05/13/2010, 08:44 AM   #25
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We need to work on the sketches too. I know there are some out there, but I just cant get my head wrapped around the whole RTC thing. I wish it was like vBasic.


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