Octoblu Powered Addressable LED Sign

Across the past year, I have been utterly fascinated with iot(The Internet Of Things). I have been trying to somehow work iot into my daily life at the coffee shop. Recently I met a gentleman named Chris Matthieu who has been working on a project called Octoblu(recently sold to Citrix).

Sign Running

iot up until this point has largely been confined to seeing what you can do and how to automate your social media networks. The goal of Octoblu(at the time it was small and known as skynet), was to actually take iot and connect it to hard devices. By building a repo and a framework around several different devices, Octoblu has grown into an iot that includes both social networking and hardware. The ideas are limitless. You could automate both your home life and combine it with your social life.

Picture of bigger ticker

My goal with this project was not so much to connect on social media, but to take a concept that has been created at the macro level(a giant sign scrolling the news in New York Town Square) and condense it down to the micro level(my coffee shop's window).

Picture of Heatsync

One of the cool things about owning a coffee shop in Downtown Mesa is that I have been exposed to the world of hackerspaces. Down the street from my coffee shop is HeatSync Labs. HeatSync is full of genius minds, and one of the minds that hangs out is a cool guy named Moheeb Zara. Moheeb is a standing member of the board at Heatsync. Moheeb is also a developer for Octoblu. He had an LED sign that he had just hooked up to a serial device driven Arduino.

For some reason I looked at this and said "man that would do a lot of awesome on the front of a coffee shop". In Moheeb's example he was using the sign to pass updates to the Octoblu office. I thought "how cool would it be to build my own digital sign for the front of Lo Fi". The sign could be used for a lot of things, like upcoming events, open hours, news feeds etc.

Anyways, what ensues is a mad dash of learning. My skills in javaScript up until this had been lack luster to say the least, so I needed to learn as fast as possible in order to enact this sign. The primary language of Octoblu is javaScript, the primary language of arduino is C++. Luckily Moheebe had already created a serial connection C++ program in order to link a serial device to Octoblu. I was able to connect this pretty easily.

Constructing the sign was going to be a new experience for me. For one, I had never soldered before in my life(though I have ran plumbing before).

I was lucky enough to apply some real world experience to this project. In essence we used neopixel addressable LEDs in order to build the sign. For this we were using a matrix of 8 tall by 48 wide(small, but hey this is diy). In essence all we were doing is taking a matrix of LED's and running 5v of power down one side daisy chained, and then running signal along jumpers from send to tx to rx(transmit/receive), and then also daisy chaining our ground along the side.

This allowed us to have 3 wires running to our serial device transmitter which in this case was a arduino nano.

After doing that we applied some nerd logic by loading Moheeb's serial data relay to the arduino and then connected the serial device to Octoblu's meshblu network with this repo built by Luis Montes.

This allowed us to place the sign onto the network; however we needed a "physical daemon" running the Gateblu network, in order to control our devices locally in the coffee shop.

This can be done in a number of ways, but the best way I decided was to take a Raspberry Pi with a wifi dongle, and apply it to the coffee shop. The concept is simple: One Pi to rule a room. This allows me to send data to the pi in many different ways(wifi, bluetooth, serial). Doing this I simply ran a usb to the arduino allowing the Raspberry Pi to do all of the controlling. Now not only do I have a sign being addressed by a raspberry pi, but I also have a local networked device in my business that control all other things IOT. I call it the business daemon, but you can call it whatever you want. I will do another esoteric write up of the concept of centralized iot in a business.

With all that being said, I now have a Octoblu connected sign in my coffee shop, and I couldn't be happier! I can change the sign to say whatever I want, and I can also take the added features of having my Raspberry Pi running about 6 other iot connected devices in the coffee shop.

Here are some shots from the DIY construction of my device!

And here we have the finished product in all its glory!