led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH

If you have several months of free time and cash to spare, you can make your own glowing ball of death like imgur user, burgerga. His creation, aptly called “Sol Crusher”, took 6 months of planning, building and programming to come to life.

The Glowing Ball of Death is a 15″ geodesic sphere covered in 540 WS2812B addressable LEDs. It is controlled by a Teensy 3.2 and OctoWS2811 adapter board. According to burgera, Sol Crusher is at the end of an adjustable pole and he’ll be toting it around to EDM festivals. “It is bright,” he says. “Really bright. 150W of LED power bright.

led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
It all started with an idea. What if I made a totem with a ton of LEDs? I did some research on the geometry of geodesic spheres and created a quick mock up in CAD. Originally I was looking at 1 LED per panel.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
But 3 LEDs per panel seemed to look a lot better. And it would give me a lot more resolution to work with.
For this project I’m using WS2812 LEDs. They are also known as neopixel LEDs over at Adafruit. The cool thing about these is that they only need a common power and ground and a single data line to chain them together. So instead of needing 3×540 PWM signals from my microprocessor I just need a single pin (I actually divided it up between 4).
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
I started figuring out LED positioning and how I could have a common power and ground plane across the whole sphere. I did this in solid modeling software because it’s a lot easier to make changes with parametric modeling. Circuit board layout programs are a lot less flexible. This side shows the power plane
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
And this side shows the ground plane and power plane connections (everything is soldered on the back side).
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
The model started to get a lot more complex.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
And I started work on what would become the internal structure. I couldn’t just rely on the solder connections to hold everything together.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
This was one of the initial cuts of the board layout.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
I ordered the prototype boards through OSH Park. They’re super fast and high quality and I’ve used them for several projects now. However they charge $5 per sq. in. and you get 3 boards
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
While the quality and speed are great, this initial prototype run of 6 cost me $60. To get the 180 boards I needed would be way to expensive. Also, OSH only has one thickness option: the standard .062″. To save on weight I wanted to get .031″ boards.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
On the back side you can see how the boards are soldered together. They’re actually surprisingly strong!
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Unfortunately I realized too late that the LED footprint was wrong. I had used the footprint for the WS2812 LEDs, and didn’t notice that I ordered the updated WS2812Bs… Completely incompatible but I could still solder the boards together to see how that worked.
I also wasn’t too happy with the silk screen pattern, so I made some modifications for the next batch.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Along with the prototype boards I also designed and ordered these little guys. It’s a low voltage cutoff circuit to protect my LiPo batteries from draining too far. If the batteries ever drop below 3.0V per cell they can be permanently damaged and never hold a charge again.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Luckily it was easy to solder on a fuse holder. You really don’t want LiPo batteries to short. Especially the size I’m using.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
The 5V 30A voltage regulator needed some connectors.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
And I need an extension cord to run to my backpack (where I’m keeping the battery)
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Speaking of the battery. This is what I’m using. I got 4 10,000 mAh 22.2V LiPo batteries. Each one should last me 5-6 hours depending on the animation, which should be good for two days or more of a festival.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
I also had to switch out the connectors on these guys. Doing this made me really nervous. One mistake and I could end up with a MASSIVE fire on my hands.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Here’s the power system all wired up and showing a steady 5V!! Note that I got a LiPo safe so that should something go terribly wrong, the LiPo fire will be somewhat contained…
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
I 3D printed an enclosure to hold the low voltage cutoff board and added a power status LED. I can also hold one additional fuse.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Here’s the LVC board all closed up and powered!
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Originally I wanted to use a Raspberry Pi. This would allow me to use processing for the animations, and easily input adjustments in real time using a little bluetooth keyboard. Unfortunately the WS2812 LEDs require pretty precise timing that is hard to achieve on a microprocessor that’s also running an operating system. I found a library that supposedly worked but I just couldn’t get it running.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
So after some more research into what people use to drive large LED displays, I came across the Teensy. It runs on the same code as arduino (which I already knew how to use) and is way more powerful. They also sell a shield called the OctoWS2811 which comes with a library for controlling the LEDs and I found examples of people controlling way more LEDs than I needed.


My first test was using some spare individual LEDs I had sitting around from an old project.


I then upgraded to a strip I got from Ali Express. It was at this point that I realized just how bright this thing was going to be

led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Finally the second batch of boards arrived! It took a lot of searching but I went with Seeed Studio. They’re based in China but their prices were really good. I read some concerns about the quality of the boards but I figured my circuits were so simple I didn’t have much to worry about.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
I got the entire order of 225 boards for $350 (including shipping) which was way better than I had expected to get. I even splurged and got ENIG finish and black solder mask.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
And the quality turned out great!
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
And the silk screen pattern is much more enjoyable this time around.


I got the LED footprints right this time and the LEDs lit up on the first try!

With the first panel together I’m starting to get really excited about how this is gonna look.

led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
I 3d printed these brackets for the back side of each panel. It will connect to the fiberglass rods to get support from the core structure.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
With the first panel together I can start to see how it’s gonna look.


Here’s a look at how the solder paste/hot air process works. It’s way easier than soldering every pin by hand. Still tedious though. And I have 540 LEDs and 0603 capacitors to solder.

led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Got a good amount done on this weekend. Lots of time soldering and watching TV.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Here is the center hub. The fiberglass rods will fit over the nubs and the top and bottom halves can separate.
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
First two panels on the totem!
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Joined by a third!

led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH

led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
Kinda looks like a sea mine
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
And the bottom half is done!
led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH
After two Sundays of a solder party with my friend we had all the panels ready to finish the job!

led ball, This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome, PROTECH

And here it is! First time firing it up I was so happy! I had spent a lot of money and 6 months on this project so far. So seeing it all together for the first time was wonderful.

Want to to contribute animations? Check out the Readme located here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5ykxn2ujp1w
Animation functions can be submitted here: https://www.dropbox.com/request/UYffX.

This guy builds and codes his own glowing LED ball and it’s awesome
RELATED  IT Contract Jobs: Pro vs. Con
Tagged on:     

Elizabeth Becker

Elizabeth is Marketing Manager at PROTECH. Comments and feedback can be directed to her at jobs@protechfl.com.