Silhouette Box (Billings)

I imagined a shadow box style light with a city skyline silhouette in front for a little bit and finally got the materials to give it a whirl. Learning from the previous bathroom light with the 406 and Montana state design that I cut out with my Dremel, I felt more comfortable with trying something more difficult. I am a big fan of using my Dremel, it’s a highly recommended tool for any builder/maker. The programming and design for this project was relatively easy because of previous projects using similar parts, the main thing was getting the correct amount of light and the colors dialed in.

Ping Sensor Ping Sensor I tackled the programming and lighting first, just to get that out of the way and gather the needed measurements for the box and LED colors. The electronics I used was a Propeller for the microcontroller, PIR for the motion sensing, and WS2812B RGB LED modules for the lighting. The Propeller and PIR sensor I already had and have used extensively, and the WS2812B modules I found at SparkFun for minimal cost. I picked up a pack of 10 SS WS2812B for once I had the programming completed. The WS2812B LEDs were the only thing in this project that I have never used before, so that is where I focused at first. I breadboarded a couple up, just to create the function and be able to use addressing if I wanted to. I used a cardboard box that I got the parts in and cut out a design that I could test each color and transitions of each color. It took some hours to create all the colors I could think I wanted to call from a data (DAT) section and got up to 81 different colors that I could easily differentiate from each other. I was surprised to see what amazing color they were able to produce and at such a wide range; truly impressive. The datasheet for the WS2812B LED claim that each LED can create millions of colors; while that is technically true, I had a hard time telling some colors from each other because they only differed by a few numerical values in the RGB scale. Once I had the colors programmed, I needed something to hold the LEDs in the light box. I used a Dremel to cut up a blank PCB development board into smaller pieces to make one that fit the box. This wasn’t the first time I've used a Dremel to create smaller boards from larger boards. I soldered them together to make a bar that stretched roughly the inside length and soldered the WS2812B modules on, 8 in total at first, but ended up using 4 because it was much less power consumption was illuminating adequately for what I had envisioned.

Next, I focused on the enclosure. Using the make-shift cardboard box as an example, I went down to the garage to create it out of pine and plywood. I printed out some stylish titles of the Billings skyline and a Billings title and attached them to the wood I wanted to use for those pieces. During this round of routing with the Dremel, I learned that vibrations are not your friend for thin parts, I broke a couple letters when the lettering got to thin. I changed up the design to accommodate this and decided for a stylish, and oddly my first choice in font, BlowBrush. I cut out the letters out cleanly and painted them black, and I cut the skyline out and used a chisel to clean up the sharp edges. Painted the box light brown to allow the black colored Billings title to be clearly seen during daytime. I made a simple box frame out of 1x3 pine wood I picked up from Home Depot. I wanted the title to be the only thing raised on the front, so I routed a slot for the skyline face place to sit flush. I put a shelf for the light bar to sit on, and to keep the wires and other pieces from casting a shadow. I painted the inside the box light gray. I wanted to use a Montana theme background and went with “Big Sky” and painted some clouds so when the RGB LEDs were on, it would show some clouds above the skyline. To be honest, I need more practice painting clouds, but I am pleased with the effect. I test assembled it and was satisfied with how the PIR sensor blended-ish in with the clouds, and how it functioned. The PIR sensor detected motion and the lights cycled correctly and the painting looks good with the colors I picked for the RGB LEDs. This is the first décor of its kind that I know of, and the first round was a total success. I have plenty of ideas for other cities and even team themed projects, but for now, this gets to live in our spare bedroom as the décor lighting that turns on once you open the door and turns off once you leave the room.

I give this project 3 stars because the learning curve of routing the 1/8” plywood designs, it was an unforgiving process. The programming wasn’t necessarily difficult, but it did a long time to program all 81 colors and create a template to use the WS2812B module. Going forward, these will be easier, and I have an idea of using a laser cutter instead of Dremel to achieve more precise designs.

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