General Questions

edited December 2014 in BlinkyTile
Hi There,

I have just received your BlinkyTile kit - thanks for sending it so early. I appreciate that you were trying to get this in by Christmas and that documentation will be out soon, but I wanted to get started and have some basic questions. I have no experience of the BlinkyTape, which might have helped with some questions.

I have 126 tiles and was intending to build these into a single object based on the Penrose tiling pattern.

1) How many tiles can be handled by a single controller? There are three controllers in the kit. Is the power load for 126 tiles too much for one controller?

2) Are there any restrictions on how many tile 'hops' there may be from the controller to the furthest tile? Indeed, are there any particular limitations on topology?

3) The five solder pads appear to be left-right symmetrical. Is it OK to solder tiles together in opposite orientations, i.e. one upside down relative to the other?

4) I have not seen anything yet on programming the controller. The tiles on each sheet are numbered 1 to 14. If I assemble a raft of all the tiles, is it the case that the behaviour of all tiles with a given number must be identical, or is it possible to address an individual tile. I have nine sets. Can I address say tile 6 in one set or are all tiles numbered 6 going to mirror one another? Put another way: in any raft of tiles, are there only 14 possible behaviours.

5) Presumably I can use all three controllers at once if I keep the tiles controlled by each controller electrically isolated. Yes? Or can I use extra controllers to provide power if they don't provide programming?

All the very best for the season,



  • Hey Bob!

    Thanks for the questions - as you've realized there are a lot of things that we have left to do in the docs, particularly for folks like yourself who got the largest kits.

    Forgive me if I miss a few questions but let me answer what I can right now:

    * You can solder the tiles any way you like as long as all five pads are connected with no offset - i.e. it's OK if you flip the tile over so the led points the other way / upside-down. You can even solder two tiles back to back.

    * You shouldn't have any issues with too many hops / bad signal. I believe each controller can handle all 126 tiles. I have to get back to you on the power injection but I believe it should not be necessary.

    * Yes - you can of course make three separate, electrically isolated shapes.

    * It's possible to reprogram the address number on each tile. This is what the small jumper clip is for. Then you will be able to address all 126 tiles. (Instructions coming soon.)

    * Controller info will also be coming soon. For now, the easiest way to do custom programming is via processing:

    I hope this gives you enough info to work on the physical arrangement for your sculpture. Let us know if you have specific questions as you're working - and we'd love to see photos, this sounds awesome.


    P.S. Happy Holidays to you as well!
  • Thanks for all the details, Ethan!

    It is clearly much more general and flexible than I had assumed. I had not recognised that the holes were for jumpers, but if all pentagons are essentially interchangeable, that simplifies the design a lot. I was worried that I was going to have to keep track of tile numbers more carefully.

    I await further instructions!

    Best wishes,


  • For what it's worth, I assembled 56 tiles into a single sculpture and using just the default on-board programs I needed to hook up 5v directly from a power supply to ensure stable behavior. I was checking with Matt and he said the boards can only handle 500mA, which isn't that many tiles at full power (3 20ma emitters on each tile for a 60ma full load at full power). I'm using a 2amp ps and it's working fine so far.
  • Hey Avatar, thanks for the heads-up. I'd thought that we'd be able to get a few more tiles going before having to inject power. We'll make sure to update the instructions to reflect this.

    Macbob -- that would indicate you'll have to inject power. I believe that you should have the proper piece for that, which is a rounded board with a standard barrel-type connector. That, again, can be placed pretty much anywhere in the sculpture.
  • For regular patterns, something around 40 tiles should be fairly safe, although if you turn them all on at full brightness it will go over the limit (the controller has protection for this, so it won't cause any damage!). Most patterns that we have seen have a maximum of around 1/4 of the LEDs on at full brightness, so they should be ok to power a larger group of tiles. For instance, the disco flash pattern that comes as a sample only lights two LEDs at a time, so you could power a full 126 tile set through the controller if you only show that pattern.

    The trick we used on the BlinkyTape was to just never turn all the LEDs on to their theoretical maximum, since even their medium brightness setting is already pretty blinding. Since it's easy to add external power to the BlinkyTile, I left the option open to use full brightness. There is a software setting to change the maximum brightness, that we can add to the Python library. This would allow you to make a big sculpture powered through the controller, and ensure that it stays a little dimmer to prevent drawing too much power, or connect it to an external supply and crank the brightness up the whole way.
  • Instructions unclear. Screwed up.

    Can anyone make a clear diagram of it?

    I can't get the lights on!
  • Hey there - where are you stuck? The easiest way to get in trouble is if you make a solder bridge across some of the pads.

    If you keep running into trouble please email in to - we'll see those messages right away.
  • Hi Again!

    I got my kit before Christmas, but put it on the shelf because I had too much going on and also because I understood that you were to be working on documentation. As a beginner to this sort of thing, documentation would be very handy!

    Unless I am missing a link somewhere, I still see nothing that describes general usage and details such as how to use jumpers, how to write code to address individual tiles, etc, etc. It is not the soldering process that would be challenging, but the programming.

    Now that the tiles are available commercially, is there any documentation provided? Or am I just missing something? I was thinking of picking up this project again, but don't want to blow it by soldering everything together only to find that I am missing some vital restriction as to what is possible!

    Best wishes,


  • Hi Bob -

    Great point, we are missing a some details about programming and usage. Right now the best resource starts on another thread on the forum here:

    However, it's not great for beginners - you'll need to be fairly comfortable with Github, command line, and firmware programming.

    I'm assuming that you're looking for instructions on how to set new numbers for the tiles, but then were you going to program your own routines? If so, what language did you want to use?
  • Hi Threeethan,

    As a day job, I am a Perl programmer, although I am familiar with C, Java and JavaScript. I can presumably learn Python or whatever Processing uses. The software should not be a problem once I have something to crib from.

    I built my own computer, from components, in the late 1970s and have done virtually nothing with electronics ever since except a controller for a CNC router. The problem is knowing nothing whatever about downloadable controllers, arduinos, etc, and, as you say, github and the rest.

    Clearly one of my interests is to get back up to speed with this again. I have an Arduino Mega, which I was playing with for a while, but I need something a bit more ambitious! BlinkyTiles seemed about right. I have spent the Spring doing other things, but would like to get back to it again.

    I am deeply involved with the Penrose pattern and with Quasicrystals and wanted to do something to illustrate their symmetries (or not). Pentagons always get my attention!

    If there is no documentation available or upcoming then I am sure that I can muddle through with following your Github examples, but working out how to manage something more than a dodecahedron will take me a while.

    But if you have documentation in the pipeline, I will wait for it. I have seen nothing online about how to assign addresses to individual tiles and how then enable each tile's light individually. That would be the most useful thing. I'm not sure what problems I will encounter once I get going.

    Best wishes,

    Bob Mackay

  • Very cool set. Can you please explain what each cable/adapter does? Specifically not sure how the prongs are to be used.

    Are there any assembly videos?

    I'm looking to control the tiles via a Raspberry Pi 2 and some python code. Once all the tiles are soldered together with the adapter board, can I just plug it into the PI with the USB cable via the Lightbuddy from the adapter board and run some code? Will the Pi provide enough power?

    Do you have more information on how the Lightbuddy works/controllable? Is it similar to the chip on the Binkytape (another great product)?

  • edited April 2015
    Hi Bob and Jravetch, thanks for your support! We've been discussing this internally and will modify our priorities a bit to put together more documentation (right now, we've been focusing on developing the software).

    Bob- showing crystal symmetries sounds really awesome. The panels we sent out in the kickstarter are all programmed with the number that's on the tile. A simple way to control them for symmetry without needing to re-program, is to lay out the numbered tiles with a symmetric pattern. That way, when the controller addresses tiles with address 1, any tile with that address will light up with the same color. It's sort of a hardware method.

    Otherwise, I have an (unfortunately still undocumented) python sketch for programming the tiles. I'll try to get a tutorial for using it up within the next week.

    Jravetch- really good idea to make a diagram of all the parts. Will get that up ASAP. Also great suggestion for an assembly video.

    The PI should provide enough power for at least a 14 tile set, and probably could work for a 42 tile set as well, as long as you're careful to keep the brightness a little lower.

    The lightbuddy is compatible with the BlinkyTape protocol, so using it with a computer should work the same way as the BlinkyTape. It shows up as a serial port on the computer, and should work without drivers on OS X and Linux, and the PatternPaint installer for Windows now contains a driver for it as well. It's also set up to be compatible with the FadeCandy protocol, however we're still working to make that work (currently only the blinkytape protocol works). It's unfortunately not Arduino compatible, however it is based on open source tools (arm-none-eabi-gcc and dfu-util for loading new firmware), so it is possible to reprogram the firmware.
  • Thanks Matt! Very much looking forward to the updated documentation and assembly instructions/video. Having those will make it much easier to get everyone up and running quicker.

    Would you also be able to create some detailed firmware flashing instructions? I'm familiar with dfu-util, as I used it to update the firmware on my Spark Core. Actually that would be really awesome to control the tiles via the Spark Core. Any thoughts on how that would work?

  • Sure- updating the firmware is pretty simple once you have dfu-util installed, and I'm including new firmware images as we make releases (I don't recommend updating it yet as the current version breaks the serial interface). There's also a recovery mode built into the bootloader, in case there was an issue with the firmware. Ff you hold both buttons down and then plug in the USB cable, it will go directly to DFU mode and stay there until you upload an image or remove/re-insert the USB cable again.

    Yes, you should be able to control the tiles via spark core- they speak DMX, and the FastSPI library should work with SparkCore to generate a workable output for them directly. Hmm... Free tiles to anyone who makes a tutorial for that ;-)
  • Cool. How would wiring up the Spark Core to the tiles look like? So I can use the FastLED library too? I bought the tiles through Adafruit, which I hope many more do. Would you think about adding a learning tutorial there?
  • edited April 2015
    I tried to control my BlinkyTiles with a Spark Core, but I ran into the same problem as when I tried an Attiny85: there's no DMX support. FastLED requires either DmxSimple or DmxSerial to control BlinkyTiles, and those libraries haven't been ported to either platform. If anyone is able to help with porting either of those (which is over my head), it'd be greatly appreciated. :) There's a thread in the Spark community here:
  • Ah, that's a bummer! Ideally the DMX signal could be generated directly from FastLED, I suppose that's just looking for a developer to do it- the timing is much less strict than many of the other 1-wire protocols.

    Generating DMX output on the ARM processor in the LightBuddy controller was fairly trivial (it's using a hardware UART fed by the DMA engine, and the break signal is generated using an interrupt), and I would expect it to be not so difficult to do something similar for the Spark Core.
  • Indeed unfortunate. Any ideas on how to wirelessly control the tiles?
  • Ah, we still need to port the FastDMX library to Spark core :-/. If the controller doesn't need to be small, an Arduino Yun would do the trick.
  • Oh, here's a library that might be a good start:
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