Create an ambient light haven with an Arduino kit and wild imagination

Farnell -August 06, 2013

Ambient lighting systems provide accent and subtlety to homes, and are also a favorite of designers of luxury products wishing to highlight their wares.  Apple stores, for example, use white light with stunning results. Ferrari, Aston Martin and Jaguar have all introduced LED-based ambient lighting to the interiors of their high-end cars. The availability of inexpensive microcontrollers and improvements in LED technology has brought the cost of ambient lighting systems down. Now, anyone with an interest in electronics can easily build a system with their own Arduino board, instead of buying a system off-the-shelf. Here’s how.

The Arduino board is made up of a single board microcontroller designed to make the process of electronics in multidisciplinary projects easier and more accessible. It allows for multiple sensors, inputs and outputs and, because it is uses an open-source programing language, there are libraries and repositories to help you control almost anything. The Arduino board is made of a single open source hardware board designed around an 8-bit Atmel-AVR microcontroller. Its software is a standard programming language compiler and a boot loader executes on the microcontroller.

Where to get your Arduino Board

There are two ways to get hold of an Arduino board. Pre-assembled Arduino boards are available, but you can also buy DIY kits, which allow you to build them yourself. You can find instructional booklets and hardware information if you wish to construct the board yourself, and pre-assembled versions come with manuals explaining how to correctly hook them up to your computer. Most popular electronics stores or specialists will stock Arduino boards, but if in doubt, they are easy enough to find online. A starter kit is available here.  


Figure 1. The Arduino Starter Kit

If you are a DIY devotee, you can also build your own Arduino.  Your shopping list includes: 
  • Perfboard
  • Two 10 uf electrolytic capacitors
  • Two uf tantalum capacitors
  • 7805 voltage regulator (5v)
  • LM1117T-3.3 voltage regulator (3.3v)
  • Green LED
  • Red LED
  • Two 150 ohm resistors
  • 10K resistor
  • One 0.1 uf capacitor (ceramic disk)
  • Two 22 pf capacitors (ceramic disk)
  • 16 MHz crystal oscillator
  • Momentary push button switch
  • Jumper Wires
  • Female headers (three rows of eight)
  • Row of 6 male headers
  • Female wall wart power jack
  • ATmega328 with bootloader
  • 28 pin DIP IC socket

These parts, minus the female headers and power jack, can often be bought as a bundle and can be found in most electronics stores or computer specialists. The next step is to put your board together, the instructions for which can be found here.

Adding Music

Ambient lighting and music can be used to lighten the mood as Arduino boards can manipulate the colors of an RGB LED lighting strip according to rhythmic progression. This happens when the Arduino board uses a microphone input to sync a connected LED lighting system with a song, allowing the board to change its colors quickly or slowly, depending on the tempo of your chosen song, and will complement a song's genre with colorful feedback.

The adaptability of the controller means that you can keep the lighting subtle and gentle for when you are relaxing at home or increase the brightness of the LEDs for a party. The system works by taking the audio input and assigning brightness to volume. This data is then sent to the Arduino over USB. The Arduino receives this data and can control either a single-color LED or with an RGB LED strip, assign colors to pitch accordingly using pulse-width modulating on each channel (Red, Green, Blue).

TV/Living Area Lighting

Where ambient lighting can have the most dramatic effects is in the main living room around the TV.  By synchronizing the light with the film or show this creates an incredibly immersive experience particularly in action movies.  However it’s not well suited to older, black and white films where the average pixel color is always gray.

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

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