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Building the Blinky POV

My oldest daughter Alice has an occasional interest in electronics, and as her dad I try to encourage her without becoming too annoying. We’ve done some past projects like Snap Circuits experiments, building a Drawdio pen, and constructing an animated Halloween LED display. Recently we had a chance to build a Blinky POV from Wayne and Lane. Or more accurately I should say she had a chance to build it, since my role was limited to talking her through the steps and taking photos. It’s impressive what an 11-year-old can do with a soldering iron!

You’ve probably seen these POV blinkers before. It’s like a scrolling message display, but with only a single column of pixels. The eye’s persistence of vision reveals the message when the display is waved back and forth across your field of view. There’s not much to the hardware: just a basic microcontroller, some LEDs, and a few passive components. Wayne and Lane’s instructions are detailed and well-illustrated, and even for this relative beginner it took less than an hour to build. The microcontroller (a PIC 16F1823) comes pre-programmed with some sample messages, so you can start using it as soon as the assembly is complete.

hard at work soldering

the nearly finished board

The main reason I selected Wayne and Lane’s Blinky POV instead of another similar one was the novel method used to program it. Instead of a PIC programmer, a serial connection, or some other conventional interface, it uses a pair of photo sensors to program new messages using flashes of light. Go to the Blinky Programmer web page, design some pixel or text-based messages, and click “go”. A clever bit of javascript flashes two squares on the screen, and when the Blinky POV is held near these flashing squares, it reprograms the stored messages in about 30-60 seconds. In our experience this method was very reliable, and much less hassle than dealing with virtual serial ports or other wired interfaces. And it actually made programming fun – like magic! The web page interface is surprisingly versatile, too. You can design pixel art or text messages, adjust the scrolling speed, switch between multiple stored messages, and define what should happen at the end of each message.

reprogramming using photo sensors

This is starting to sound like a Wayne and Lane commercial, so I should probably add that I have no affiliation with them other than being a satisfied customer. If there’s a young builder in your life who might enjoy a simple but fun-filled electronics project, give Blinky POV a try.

 

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