The Spore system is a hardware and software platform that simplifies the process of creating with light. Each Spore is a softball-sized, WiFi-controlled, addressable, battery-operated, RGB LED module. This platform affords control of 1-1000+ Spores working together. The current version is optimized for about 100 Spores.
Spore was developed to showcase the potential of Lightwork. Lightwork uses computer vision to quickly map complex arrangements of addressable lights. Spore allows individually addressable LEDs to be placed in almost any arrangement, without any wiring for power and data. Used together, the the time to conceive and deploy a spatial light installation can be reduced from days to minutes.
With lots of options for input and output, Spore has many other possibilities for future uses. For example, wireless motor drivers that can be location mapped (using the LEDs + Lightwork), or accelerometer input to interact with individual lights, or reconfigurable, location aware sensor network interfaces, or lights that interpret the weather, or big Daniel Rozin-esque mirrors, etc...
Basic Operation Requirements
- Multicast capable Router + 802.11n Access Point (tested with Ubiquiti UAP-AC-LR + EdgeRouter X for ~100 devices). See network setup below.
- JST-EH charger(s). 5V, ~520mA per Spore - we use a 5V 30A supply to charge 50 at a time
- Source of sACN (E1.31) - generates the LED colors and transmits over the network
- Between 1 and 100 Spores.
- Make sure you have at least one charged Spore, and have completed the install guide for the Config App and Network setup.
- Join your newly created network.
- Once you’re all set up, open the Config App, and click
Send Server IP. This broadcasts your computer's IP to all Spores on the network so that they can connect to you.
- Next click
Scan for Changes. This will scan your network and assign a unique address to all connected Spores, starting at
Spore Statusto open the monitor, this will show you which Spores are connected, their battery level, and firmware version.
- Use the mode switches to make sure they’re all communicating properly, e.g. switch from blackout to test mode.
- Switch them into Normal Mode so they can receive sACN data.
- Send sACN over multicast. We’ve used QLC+ and sACN View to test, but you could also use something like Touchdesigner.
That’s it! Now that your Spores are set up and receiving sACN, you can map them with Lightwork, or use them as you’d like.
Table of Contents
- Known Issues & Workarounds
This section covers info on building and modifying the hardware, including the PCBs, batteries, prototyping, network setup, and enclosures.
- ESP8266 - An Arduino-compatible microcontroller with built-in wifi
- 16 built-in addressable RGB LEDs (sk6812)
- Built-in battery charger (@500mA)
- Slot for 1800mAh lipo (single cell, 103450)
- Lasts 5+ hours w/ 1800mAh cell
- Breakout pins for:
- more LEDs
- built-in MOSFET (~2.5A)
- analog input (reads VBatt by default)
- motor output
- servo output
- sACN (E1.31) LED control over network
- Fades to black if no data received for more than 3 seconds
- Over-The-Air (OTA) updateable firmware (all at once!)
Install KiCad and open it! -- The PCB was designed in KiCad 4. We recently did test import to KiCad 5 which seemed OK, but we haven’t tested exported files/gerbers yet. We usually check our gerbers using gerbv and/or GerbView included in KiCad 5 (the one in KiCad 4 is not great).
If You Don't Have a Spore:
If you want to play with the firmware without actually building one of the boards, this is our recommended test hardware (but use what you have):
Connect the NeoPixel
Data Input to
RX on HUZZAH; NeoPixel
Power 5V DC to
BAT on HUZZAH; NeoPixel
Power Signal Ground to
GND on HUZZAH. This setup works great for other form-factors. You could build a whole system using these or something similar if you wanted!
Connecting the LED 5V to the battery instead of 5V allows you to send 3.3V data without using a level shifter.
Note: The LED data pin must go to GPIO3 for DMA (Direct Memory Access) to work. DMA lets the ESP send data to the LEDs without flickering during WiFi events. Otherwise, WiFi events take enough processor cycles to throw off the timing for the super-sensitive neopixel-compatible LEDs.. and it looks terrible!
Some notes on ordering PCBs & parts:
I’ve had good experience getting assembled boards from SAPA Technologies in the Vancouver BC area, and both assembled and unpopulated boards from PCBWay and Elecrow in China (but there are lots that are good). Local fabs generally do better, faster work, and allow you to come visit/send couriers/perform tests to make sure things happen right the first time; but it is naturally more expensive (I’ve found around 40-100% more). Cheaper chinese assemblers do a fine job, but it can take a little longer, communication is slow (time zones!), and you kinda get one shot at a time. One run I did in China had a silly mistake made by the fabricator that needed to be fully re-done twice. That put us over 6 weeks behind schedule. Apart from that, I recommend ordering at least 15% over what you actually need if ordering overseas, and more like 5-10% or less for local (depending on your test procedures and quantities).
Note: Assembled means “with all the components soldered on”. Turnkey assembly means “source and buy all the components for me, and then solder them on”. Unpopulated (usually called PCB Manufacturing, or PCB Prototype) means, “just the PCB” and I am responsible for sourcing, buying, and soldering the components.
We usually order our components for local assembly or prototyping from Digikey. I recommend getting addressable LEDs from Shiji Lighting if you are doing a bunch. They have consistent quality, excellent service, and good prices. You can use RGB or RGBW sk6812s for this board (RGBW will require a firmware modification). I think we didn’t use APA102s/sk9822s to save pins - we needed more free pins for an earlier design concept. That later changed but it was too late to switch back. Feel free to modify the boards for other LED protocols if you prefer!
When ordering prototype PCBs for Spore online:
- 2 layers
- HASL (cheaper) or ENIG/Immersion Gold Finish (a little more corrosion resistant)
- 1.6mm thickness
- White Solder Mask (PCB Color) - we think white helps reflect LED light outward vs dark PCB, but do what you want!
- Leave other options at default
SPOREs are designed to use a 103450, 1800mAh lipo battery with JST PHR-2 connector. You can use a different battery, just make sure the polarity of the PHR-2 connector matches, and it is at least 500mAh. The charge current is set with R6 on the Spore board.
We sourced our batteries from General Electronics Battery Co. (http://www.gebattery.co/) and were very happy with the service and quality. You may have to order 100+ batteries with them as they are an OEM supplier. Otherwise check Adafruit/Sparkfun or your local electronics or hobby shop (FYI shipping LiPos from USA to Canada is a pain in the neck).
To install the batteries, we built a simple wooden jig to center and square them in the PCB, tacked them with hot glue, and glued them in with RTV silicone. RTV silicone adheres well to the PCB and the battery, and absorbs shocks without releasing or cracking. It can also handle temperature swings without the bond weakening (e.g. maybe it’s cold outside then your LEDs heat up the board). Make sure it is RTV (room temperature vulcanizing), as neither Silicone I or Silicone II (typical bathroom or door/window sealants) have these properties.
Hot Tip: You can usually find RTV Silicone in the automotive section of Canadian Tire or Home Depot. You can also get it at Princess Auto and Walmart. We love that stuff.
Files for the enclosure are located here.
This includes a solid model for reference, a shell model that can be 3D printed or vacuum formed, and a 2D folded style shell that can be made from paper or translucent sheet material.
We made our shells of vacuum formed, ⅛”, white, Sign-Grade Lexan with the help of the folks at Dimension 3. Most of ours are hot-glued together (using a high-temperature gun), so we can easily reconfigure them, which has held up surprisingly well. For more permanent bonds, we’ve had good luck with heavy duty contact cement, 3M 4475 (industrial plastic adhesive), and BSI Maxi-Cure (high quality extra thick CA).
First set up your network using the Edgerouter setup wizard. Then fire up the UniFi controller and partition your access point with an SSID and password that makes sense to you. We like the SSID:
SPORE. Make sure the password is at least 8 characters. You'll need to enter these in the firmware
wifi_config.h file in Arduino before uploading it.
Here are some details for optimizing the recommended Ubiquiti EdgeRouter X router and UAP-AC-xx access point to use multicast:
- Disable AP multicast filter:
config.mcast_filter_enabled=falsein config.properties (Instructions)
- Adjust AP multicast rate:
config.mcast_rate.wlan.<your-ssid>=12also in config.properties
- in the Unifi Controller Interface Wireless Settings (
edit/Advanced Optionsand disable
Block LAN to WLAN Multicast and Broadcast Data
edit/802.11 RATE AND BEACON CONTROLS, check 2G
Enable Data Rate Control, and set minimum to 12Mbps.
Additionally, the Unifi Controller and the server both want to use port 8080. Fortunately it is easy to adjust the Unifi controller (and it is not on all the time):
- Change Unifi Controller http port from 8080 to 8081:
This section contains information about the Spore firmware. It was written in Arduino which makes it pretty easy to tinker with! Every Spore uses the exact same firmware - addresses are modified using the Config App.
Reminder: How to Install Arduino Libraries
- Arduino v1.8.7+
- Esp8266 Core v2.4.2 (may not work with older or newer version)
- These Arduino libraries:
- FTDI or USB-Serial with compatible pinout. 5V vcc required, 3.3v logic recommended (e.g. Adafruit CP2104)
- Install Arduino, esp8266 core, and the above libraries
- Set up Arduino Board options (
Arduino Menu-> Tools/)
Note: the order of these settings is not always the same. I have no idea why.
- Plug in your FTDI (check the orientation) and select the correct port (some USB-Serial converters can handle a higher
- Set correct SSID and Password in
wifi_config.h(changes in this file are not tracked by git, so you have to set on every new computer)
- Open the Arduino Serial Monitor and set the baud rate to
- Hold the bootload button while resetting the board, release bootload, then
Arduino Menu-> Sketch/Upload.
⚠️YOU MUST reset the board at least once after uploading new firmware with FTDI or OTA WILL NOT WORK
- Use the Serial Monitor to make sure the Spore is connecting to your network and receiving commands from the Config App. Disconnect the FTDI whenever you are done looking at debug printouts!
NOTE: Some USB-Serial converters can prevent the LEDs from updating. If your LEDs seem stuck, unplug your FTDI/USB-Serial Converter.
Also: don't forget to download the driver for your USB-Serial converter if it is new!
The Spore Configuration App is a tool to configure and monitor the Spores. It was built in Node.js using the Electron framework. It should work on Mac, Windows, and GNU/Linux out of the box.
In the near future, we will export compiled binaries for all platforms, but for now, you need to install it using Node.js, and all dependencies should be automatically downloaded on
npm install (see below).
- Automatically set a unique address for each spore on the network
- OTA firmware updates
- Monitor battery level and status of connected spores
- Red outline of a Spore indicates low battery warning
🔌/ ⚠️icons on a Spore indicate critical battery level
- Identify individual spores (make a single one light up!) by clicking on it in the Monitor
- Change modes on all spores:
- Normal (receive sACN)
- Test (light up with white, pulsing animation)
- Blackout (turn off all LEDs)
- Not required for normal operation of Spores - just a handy tool useful for reconfiguring and troubleshooting
- Node.js 8 LTS (we developed with v8.11, probably v8.12 is OK, but not yet tested)
- Make sure Node.js is installed (type
node -vin terminal to verify version. You need v8.11 or v8.12. DO NOT use v10.x+ unless you are ready to fix some stuff
- Clone or download and extract this repo to a nice home
- Open terminal/cmd
- cd to
<this repo>/configApp/folder in terminal
npm installto download and install dependencies (will take a few minutes)
npm startto run
ctrl+cin terminal to quit
OTA Firmware Updates
The OTA Firmware updates the firmware on ALL SPOREs connected to the configurator. When the button is pressed, the server sends a message to each SPORE with the latest version number. The SPORE checks to see if this is newer than it’s current version. If yes, then it downloads and installs whichever firmware binary is in the
<this repo>/configApp/firmware/ folder.
- in Arduino, export the firmware binary (
Menu-> Sketch/Export Compiled Binary), and copy the output (
<this repo/firmware/Spore/Spore.ino.generic.bin) to
- rename the firmware file to
- After copy and rename: open
configAppfolder and change the value of
firmware_versionto match the constant
settings.hof the sensor firmware you just compiled. This number should always be a single
int, i.e. for version 0.6.01:
601, for version 1.0.05:
- restart the Config App
- Press the
Check Firmware (###)button in the App GUI
This could be more automatic in the future, but having multiple steps forces you to be very intentional about updating the firmware on a bunch of devices at once.
⚠️You can definitely soft-brick all of your devices by uploading untested firmware. ⚠️You can break OTA capabilities with untested firmware. ⚠️Firmware should be testing on a single device before OTA uploads.
Breaking OTA or soft-bricking devices requires updating firmware with FTDI for all of them - I’ve done it, and I don’t recommend it. This will be especially nasty if you've glued the enclosures together with a permanent adhesive.
Scan Network (
websocket) - Scan network for added or removed Spores, and assign addresses. Caution: this gives all Spores a unique address starting from 1, but in a totally random order. It will definitely change most (or all) addresses of any connected devices. This can ruin any mapping you may have already done!
Update FW (
websocket) - Send command to Spores to check for new firmware. Be sure that your firmware binary works before OTA updating many Spores, or you may need to manually upload over FTDI to fix them.
Spore Status (
internal message) - Opens the Monitor window that shows connected Spores, their firmware version, and battery status.
Send Server IP (
UDP OSC) - broadcast your IP so any Spores on the network can connect to you (This will be automatic on scanning for changes, in a future update). Only needed when switching between computers or networks.
Restart Devices (
UDP OSC)- broadcast a restart message to all Spores on the network. Because this is a UDP broadcast, it will even restart Spores that are having trouble connecting. Feel free to spam it a bit if you are really stuck. Note: in
config.json, you can change
true brodcasts to all devices over
UDP OSC, false sends only to connected devices via
Send Config (
websocket) - Send config packet, containing the relevant data from config.json. Currently used to set boot mode on all Spores (Normal: 0, Test: 1, Blackout: 2). Spores store this info in EEPROM and will remember it between power cycles until you change it explicitly.
internal messages) - This is an output of some system information. The count (
## spore(s) connected) is not 100% reliable at the moment (related to handshake bug) but it's pretty close. The Monitor is more accurate.
Normal: Receive sACN. Fade to black if no sACN received for 3 seconds.
Test: Pulsing white animation. Useful to test connectivity and sync with many devices.
Blackout: Turn off all device LEDs. Use in conjunction with test mode to make sure all Spores are communicating properly.
In the monitor:
Force refresh (
internal message) - updates the monitor display. Usually only required after scan network. The fact that this is required is a bug. Eventually it will not be needed.
Green Tiles are connected Spores
Grey Tiles are unconnected Spores (if you only have 20 spores, 80 should be grey).
Click a connected Spore (
websocket) to identify it with a pulsing white animation (Test Mode). Its tile will turn blue and animate a bit. Click again to "unidentify" it. Multiple Spores can be identified at once.
Red Border Tiles are Spores with a low battery. When the warning icon starts flashing, the battery is VERY low and they may start behaving badly (random restarts and flickers).
What is sACN?
Streaming ACN (sACN), aka ANSI E1.31, is a protocol developed by ESTA to efficiently transport DMX universes over a network. In other words, it is a standard way to control lights over a local network. It is comparable to ArtNET in many aspects. If you’ve ever been to a concert, the stage lights were controlled by DMX, ArtNet, and/or sACN.
Key features are that it uses multicast sockets which reduces network overhead and makes setup easier, and that it has a much higher universe limit of 63,999 vs Artnet’s 32,768. We have also been previously frustrated by apparently mixed standards/version of Artnet (read: it’s broken AF), whereas sACN is an ANSI standard and the implementations we’ve found all seem to work with each other.
Do I need the Spore Configurator App?
Maybe. The config app simplifies addressing and firmware updates on lots of devices. You could manage this manually for a small number of devices (i.e. hard-code the address and program with an FTDI). In general, once the devices have been configured once, you don’t need the app running. However, it is very helpful to be able to see connection status, battery status, and firmware version. Also, the remote
Restart Devices and
Test Mode are both quick ways to solve problems in the field (“Have you tried turning it off and on?”).
Do I need a fancy and expensive router and/or access point?
Depends! For large numbers of devices, access point and router configuration options become more important. In theory, with some good network administration, you should be able to control 1000+ SPOREs. For only a few devices (< 20 or so), any router that supports multicast should work fine, but routers are picky and weird. We can’t promise anything but it doesn’t hurt to try! If you are using your home router, maybe turn off Netflix first.
What software can control the SPORE LEDs?
Anything that can send sACN/e1.31 over network. We’ve tested with Lightwork (our own project built in Processing), Touchdesigner (DMX Out Chop), Processing (e131 library), and QLC+ (open source lighting control app). LED control software like Madrix or mapping software like MadMapper should also work. You can use tools like the Open Lighting Architecture (OLA, https://www.openlighting.org/ola/) to communicate with software like Max/MSP, PureData, etc. You could also write some of your own stuff - Arduino, Node.js, c++, python, and others all have sACN libraries available. Or you could modify the SPORE firmware to receive OSC or ArtNet instead.
TD Lightwork: https://github.com/timrolls/TD-Lightwork
Known Issues & Workarounds
Multiple websockets handshake thing - For some reason, devices sometimes send many "connect" handshakes in a row, even after they have connected. This is probably a firmware problem related to the ESPAsyncTCP + Async Websockets libraries. For now, if a device isn’t connected or repeatedly connects, or repeatedly disconnects - send the
restart devices command (there is a behaviour in the server that attempts to filter this out, it may take a couple of minutes if your server or router has crashed or been unplugged during operation)
Address Collision - currently the system allows multiple devices to have the same address. This has been intentionally allowed for now. If you want each device to have a unique address, press
scan for changes. HOWEVER, this will readdress everything which will most likely BREAK your mapping (if applicable, e.g. Lightwork). Make sure you have all your devices figured out and address before you map them with Lightwork.
Changing the Config App
config.json file - Whenever this is changed, you should restart the App. Making this more robust is on the future todo list, but it should be so rarely used that restarting the app isn’t the end of the world.
See github issues for more!
Here are some things that might be done in the future. If you want to contribute to the project it might be a good place to start! In no particular order:
- See github issues for broken things!
- Export Config App as standalone app. For now, you need to install and run it as a dev from your chosen terminal. See the Electron documentation.
- Make a SPORE DEMO mode. This should show off capabilities when there is no server or wifi available, or on a button press.
- Migrate to Node.js 10 (wait until October for LTS)
- Make the firmware server more automatic (drag & drop, rename file, auto-extract version or enter version in GUI)
- Make editing the config.json file work better - could be auto-restart server, could be notifies with a warning whenever it changes (i.e. “config file has changed, server restart required”), could be dynamically reload all config values.
- Add sleep mode to SPOREs (currently sleep mode is labelled as “blackout” which is also helpful). Would be good to be able to sleep the spores to save battery power if they need to be installed ahead of time. Decisions need to be made about how long between wakeups (to connect to network and check if it’s time to get to work), and which sleep mode to go into.
- SPOREs receive other data - Maybe you send it Audio-Reactive OSC or something?
- SPOREs transmit streaming data (i.e. streaming their sensor data) - what format, how fast, etc.
- Add ArtNet support (we chose sACN because it is more robust, but ArtNet is more widely supported)
- Port Config App to Android (wouldn’t it be nice if this whole thing were running on your phone?) - or fork to create a non-electron version that serves the GUI to a browser etc.
Individual contributors include:
- Tim Rolls - Creative Director and Developer
- Leó Stefánsson - Lightwork Developer
- Brendan Matkin - Spore Hardware, Firmware, Concept
- Alex Beim - Spore Concept
- Andrea Buttarini - Spore Design
Special thanks to generous help from volunteers, including:
- Yasu Harada
- Marie Harada
- Noel Rubin
- Ikbel Hammami