Pixel Plane – modular RGB LED Tiles

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pixel plane
[Pixel Plane] Square Tiles with individually addressable RGB LEDs. Hook it up to an optional ethernet controller and run it with open source software.

 Introduction

PixelPlane is a lego-like LED system for building your own dynamic super-bright, and big lighting walls. We are pretty excited to share our passion for LED’s with the Kickstarter community through this project. We are  software and hardware engineers who like to play with lights during our free time. We have done many large installations and want to share what we have learned.

Background

We have developed an integrated solution that can be used by both the hobbyist and the professional. Our aim is to provide a modular RGB LED Matrix that scales well and is easy to setup and operate. YOU can use it to build signs, Band/DJ displays, or for architectural lighting applications.

It will connect to your computer through a standard ethernet connection. You can build any size LED wall by mounting the tiles in any configuration, and using our free, open source software to map it. It is a complete, yet flexible system that will work right out of the box with no soldering required, and no coding required.

Aims of the Project

  • Easy to use for non-techies, but open source for people who want to modify or integrate it with it
  • Scalable to any size
  • 12″x12″ Hardware Tile with 144 RGB nodes with 1″ spacing.
  • 24 bit color
  • Optional integrated Header for rabbit based microprocessor controller
  • Each controller will drive a minimum of 1440 RGB Led’s at 60 FPS
  • Optional 24VDC to 5VDC converter for large installations and easy power management.
  • 8 Mounting points.

The RGB LED Tile

tile front, Shiny black PCB
tile front, Shiny black PCB

The PixelPlane will have surface mount tricolor(RGB)  LED’s driven by the WS2803 chip. These chips operate on a clocked serial protocol, and will be daisy-chained together. Daisy-chain 10 tiles using a simple IDC ribbon cable.

Each board will have the option of installing a small power converter that can step down the voltage to 5 Volts from 24. This will eliminate the need for thick and heavy wires to carry power.  In addition there will also be an optional header for installing a Tile Controller.

The Tile Controller

Tile Controller
Tile Controller

The tile controller will provide the translation between the ethernet and the LED drivers. Its main job will be to save incoming color data packets and send them out to the drivers when you are ready to change the image being displayed. Our goal is to be able to do this at standard video rates (60 FPS) for a set of at least 10 tiles.

We use a Rabbit Microprocessor based boards from DIgi International. These are small form factor microprocessors that are widely available,cheap and are easy to program. They also have a very nice TCP/IP library that makes programming a breeze. You will be able to either order a board from us or buy your own and load the open source firmware.

The Software

We have developed a LED control application written in Java using the easy to learn Processing platform. This utility allows you to arrange the tiles however you like and It will let you send whatever is on your computer screen to the PixelPlane, or you can use some of the build-in effects to combine your own images and text. The program is sound responsive and will react to your music or a microphone. We will also provide libraries for C++ and Java so you can make your own lighting programs. It can be downloaded for free for Mac, Windows or Linux on our site http://pixelplane.org

software screen shots
software screen shots

Risks and challenges

All Hardware has already been designed and needs minor refinement, and we have a proven workflow and nearly complete application. A supply chain for parts and circuit boards is already in place. The most variable component of the cost is the assembly. So its only a matter of bringing the unit cost down without cutting corners. By reaching our funding goal we can do a run of 100 or more units.

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