Sometimes dreams can take awhile to fulfill and that was definitely the case with this project. I was in Iceland about five years ago and witnessed the magic of the Northern Lights for the first time. The colors that seem to wisp and suddenly dance in the sky seem unnatural, both in movement and color, yet they are beautiful in a ’90s Andy Warhol way. I was inspired by the faux fur cowls that I saw last winter, and I’m always a fan of keeping warm. So, I knew those dancing lights were going to end up around my neck. I wanted to use NeoPixels to create the effect, but it was hard to figure out how to diffuse them and also create a night sky. So, after touring a few of my favorite shops in the fabric district, I ended up with stretch black mesh, white silk and black faux fur. The combination of the mesh and silk creates a sky with clouds, much like I viewed that special night.
The electronics side was quite easy for the cowl, as I used a GEMMA and individual NeoPixels. I stitched them in a zigzag pattern, and my only concern was whether the stitching would short as the cowl would crinkle around my neck. Given the trickiness of stitching stretch mesh in combination with slick silk and thick fur, I decided not to take any chances with shorted thread as I didn’t want to revisit the stitching to repair it. So, I opted to cover the NeoPixels with a strip of short white faux shearling. The strip was just wide enough to diffuse the NeoPixels and also protect the rows of stitching inside. Once stitching was complete, I watched hours of video footage from Northern Lights sightings around the world (nerd alert). It’s actually interesting to see how different atmospheres affect the colors, which makes sense since this has to do with gases anyway. Once I found the color combo that best reminded me of Iceland, I hacked some code from the NeoPixel Tiara project allowing for some randomness of my three chosen colors, but also more lights on at a time. I’m pretty happy with the results.
As with any project, there’s always the improvement list. I’d like the cowl to be a bit shorter and also more of a tapered shape. In fact, it might be cool to have an indoor version made of velvet, silk and mesh, perhaps more like an infinity scarf. Now that I have the lighting pattern set, it would also be cool to enhance that with a sensor. I looked into various gas sensors, but I don’t think the environment would change enough to really see a difference for the lights. So, I might attach a temperature sensor instead. That way I could display some of the other cool light patterns seen around the world in different conditions. I’m just happy I have a way to remember a special night in my life. If you have an interest in whipping up your own special cowl or scarf, check out the Chameleon Scarf learning guide. It has a color sensor to match your clothing, but you can also simplify it by losing the sensor and using a GEMMA instead of the FLORA. It’s a practical project that will add some warmth and get you lots of smiles.
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Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.