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Design an ambient light haven with Arduino kit

19 Aug 2013  | Farnell

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With the newer ranges of ultra-thin bezel TV's the effect is fantastic. Here’s a link to a video that show how to set up Arcuino-based PC ambient lighting. It is also a relatively affordable undertaking, with the necessary items being easy-to-find and cheap. Other than the Arduino, the biggest expense will be with the LED lighting and will obviously vary depending on the number and quality that you use:

 • RGB LED Strip
 • ULN2003A chip – this is a transistor array to drive the LED strip.
 • Arduino Nano
 • 12v DC power supply

Staircases and bathrooms
The system takes continual screenshots and averages the pixel colours before sending the data to the Arduino over USB. As with the audio ambient lighting, using pulse-width modulating each channel, the Arduino controls the LED strip colour. By using the ULN2003A chip, you eliminate the need to use a separate transistor circuit for each of the colour channels of the LED and make the build very simple.

Staircase lighting
Staircase lighting can do subtle wonders for your home. If your staircase is the centerpiece of your household, LEDs can further enhance its drama. On the other hand, if your staircase is in need of a makeover, LEDs can completely revamp it from its landing to the final step. There are obvious safety benefits to installing an ambient LED display on your staircase, such as safety proofing midnight trips downstairs or providing a gentle nightlight for young children.

Instead of having the lights on all night, an IR beam sensor can be set up to switch on the lights as someone approaches the top or the bottom of the stairs and the Arduino can control the lights to provide a cascade effect down the stairs, rather than simply illuminating them all at once.

An additional IR sensor can be used to detect the current lighting conditions, so that during the day, the lights do not come on and then as the evening sets in, they get a little brighter, only coming on with full brightness once it is dark. It is important to remember to position this ambient light sensor away from the LED lighting strip so that you don't switch off the light by switching on the light.

Bathroom lighting
Bathroom lighting can really transform a bathing space. It is always important to remember to keep everything sealed from the damp, both from spills and from the steam from a hot bath or shower. The easiest starting point is a variation of the staircase lighting system to provide a gentle light in the middle of the night. It needs to switch on automatically, give enough light to see by while not ruining your night vision and waking you up. As it is a very simple, low power device, a full Arduino board (or even the smaller Arduino Uno) is overkill and there are PIR movement sensors from companies like Texas Instruments that sit on a small microcontroller and use very little power indeed. The creator of the Pee-light gives a simple parts list and provides copy of the code required to program it:

 • PIR Movement Sensor
 • Texas Instruments MSP 430 USB Stick
 • 12V LED Light
It can help you find your way to your toilet in the middle of the night, and provided you have taken the necessary waterproofing precautions, will keep going on nothing more than battery power for months.

Garden lighting
You can also create LED lighting systems for your garden that can be controlled with an Arduino board and can transform your outdoor area into the perfect venue for social occasions, dinners and more.

Arduino boards have made setting up a garden LED display much easier although, as with the bathroom lighting, a waterproof enclosure for the circuitry is essential. Using a solar-powered LED lighting system reduces power consumption and means that you can even use the solar panel itself as a light detector. If there is insufficient sunlight to charge the inbuilt batteries, then the light can come on, highlighting paths, steps and plants around your garden.

A relaxing private nook can get its own lighting and by using the IR beam detector mentioned in the staircase lighting it remain dark until needed. A variation on this could use the IR beam detector to sense when someone has sat in a seat and switch on a reading light above their head.

You can extend the functionality of the lighting system and because Arduino boards can take an input from almost any electronic sensor, you can add temperature and rainfall sensors to change the colour and intensity of light depending on the weather conditions. If you want to use the sensors as a way of telling what the weather was outside, you could set cold temperatures to display blue LEDs and hot temperatures, red LEDs. The alternative is to use red and orange lighting to provide an illusion of warmth in the winter and blues and greens to give cool tones in the summer. Designers have used paint to give the same effect for a long time but now we have the option of painting with light.

All of these ambient lighting systems are variations on the same theme but the availability of Arduino boards, as well as lower prices and greater choice of LED strips has now made it possible to completely transform your home at a fraction of the cost of a consumer based system.

What was once only an option for luxury designers is now inexpensive and within the reach of any hobbyist electronics enthusiast. The schematics and programs are adaptable to almost any living arrangement, so whether you live in a city flat, a house in the suburbs or a ranch in the country, it's an option and has truly revolutionized home lighting systems. All you need is an interest in electronics, an Internet connection and a few easy-to-find parts and components.

About the author
Farnell contributed this article.

To download the PDF version of this article, click here.

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