Friday, June 6, 2014

Light Up Your Life With MCU-Controlled RGB LEDs

This evening I saw a recent EE Times article about using Arduinos to control RGB LEDs (red, green, blue light emitting diodes).

One of the first things that many people learn how to control with a microcontroller is an LED. It seemed like it would be good to learn a little more about LEDs, so I read the EE Times article. All I know about so far about LEDs and microcontrollers is how to light them up and that I should make sure to have an adequate pull-up resistor so I don't burn out the LED by putting too much current through it. I think. (For more on pull-up and pull-down resistors, see the Wikipedia entry or the article about the topic on

The title of the EE Times article was a bit misleading because it specifies an LED lighting project, but that project was not mentioned again until the last paragraph of the article.

While the article was disappointing in terms of living up to its title, it did spur me to ask Google to fetch some information based on the keyword combo Arduino RGB LED. Google nicely did as requested, and it turns out there are a number of tutorials on how to control RGB LEDs with an Arduino. Likely lots of advanced tricks with RGB LEDs or interesting RGB LED projects could be found by reading through more of the search result for the above keyword combination, or by adding a fourth search term such as projects.

A couple RGB LED tutorials come from sources familiar to those who read a lot about Arduinos and microcontrollers. There are an Instructables tutorial and an Adafruit tutorial. The first page of search results also gave me a tutorial from new resource, Haven't had time yet to check out OscarLiang, but the RGB LED tutorial looked fairly detailed. RGB LEDs have a distinctive appearance -- the RGBs have four leads instead of the two found on 'regular' LEDs. That may make it a little bit interesting to plug into a breadboard!

If Jeremy Blum doesn't cover RGB LEDs in his first six 'Arduino Basics' video tutorials, I'll work through a couple of the tutorials I found today to learn more about using this type of LED.

In addition to the tutorials, the first page of results did have a couple projects. One was a straightforward Make: Project -- an RGB LED Lamp. Getting a little fancier was a Make: Project titled "Control RGB LEDs with this Android-Arduino Combo-Circuit." Controlling the LEDs with an Android would be kind of fun since I haven't run into opportunities to combine Android and Arduinos for a microcontroller project yet. I'll have to see if someone else in the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group wants to work with me on that one. I'll have to research the project and find out how much the components for that cost.

Lastly, a pretty cool Arduino-controlled RGB LED project is the Wormhole Actualization Machine shown on BoingBoing (and other websites) in late May. This was an extremely complex project, at least to me, but the end result was really cool. You have to watch the video for this essentially useless but interesting device. I'll bet kids would love playing with it. It would be an interesting project to build, but a person would need to have a bit of extra cash and a strong desire to make what is essentially an interactive art project, or at least that's what it seems like to me. It could also be a movie prop, but if you made the Wormhole Actualization Machine for that reason, then you're going to also need to make a movie to go with the WAM. You make the WAM and the movie -- I'll make the popcorn...


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