A reader writes:
I live in Taiwan, and I just came across a new LED device which seems very cool.
First, here is a link. It’s all in Chinese, unfortunately, and I can’t read it to translate for you, but there are at least some photos to give you an idea.
[Here’s a goofy machine-translation, which gives the thing the name “Aurora”, which sounds good enough to me. The price, 1699 Hong Kong dollars, is as I write this about $US220.]
Basically, this works like a Lite-Brite, but with LEDs. There is a black PCB, entirely pierced through with holes. It has no wires, and there are no visible electronic components except for the DC input at one corner. You can plug in LEDs on either side, front or back, in any pattern you like. It’s powered by either a wall-wart, a small battery pack, or a USB power connector.
A friend of mine here showed it to me tonight, and it was very impressive. Water-resistant, even - he poured a beer all over both sides of one with many lit LEDs, and there was nary a flicker.
Anyway, if you’re interested, I could probably find out more about it.
I immediately, and completely wrongly, picked the Aurora as a cheaper clone of the Bandai Luminodot (dodgy translation), which was all the rage on the gadget blogs a few months ago. Some hipster has presumably bought himself a Luminodot for $US200 delivered on eBay by now, but I sure ain’t.
Doug was quick to point out, though, that this thing is not a backlit-plastic-pegs device like the Lite-Brite or Luminodot, but a bunch of little powered breadboard-ish holes, into which you can plug as many or as few LEDs of whatever colour you like, and have ‘em all Just Work with no fooling around with supply voltages or current-limiting resistors or fancy driver pucks.
(I think a cheaper version of the Bandai doodad might be makeable with a laptop CCFL backlight panel and little black shutters that open to let light out when you push a peg though them. Or you could do it the Lite-Brite way, and put a new sheet of black paper over the light for the pegs to puncture every time you want to make a new picture.)
Undaunted, I immediately developed total certainty regarding the Aurora’s similarity to another light-array gadget.
The array Doug saw may, like the Peggy, only actually light one row or column of LEDs at a time, but cycle through them too fast for any flicker to be visible. (It may or may not do the same devious multiplexing as the Peggy, and is almost certainly a lot less “hackable”.)
The Aurora is clearly being promoted as beign useful for commercial signage, as an alternative to the custom-made, ultra-bright LED-array signs that I’ve seen sprouting around the place.
Doug was under the impression that the retail price “for a board about a foot square” was only around $US30, plus another $US10 for the power supply. That’d make it worth buying just for the amusement value, but doesn’t line up with the $HK1699, $US220-ish price on the product page.
Never mind, though; when an odd toy starts being sold on any Web site ending in .tw, its price will probably be in free-fall soon.