Raspberry Pi Pico fiber optic display becomes art

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“I’ve never seen anything like this on the internet before,” writes manufacturer ElliotMade on Instructables about its Raspberry Pi-powered RGB fiber optic matrix display, and we’re inclined to agree – it’s a truly original build that uses its relatively simple components in a rather wonderful way.

At the heart of it all is a Raspberry Pi Pico, which is able to supply both power and instructions to the fiber optic array (although an external power supply takes the load off the Pico) and CircuitPython code. The WS2812B (NeoPixel) 16 x 16 LED matrix is ​​sold by Adafruitand the 1.5mm luminescent PMMA fiber comes from Amazon.

The screen fits together like a sandwich. Most parts can be 3D printed, laser cut, or handcrafted. A back plate provides structural integrity, a second plate in the middle supports the LED array, while a front plate with an individual hole for each fiber holds them down to the LEDs. A main display grid, also perforated, brings the fibers together and forms the main display. Various spacers and screws hold everything together.

The build comes from a site-wide contest on Instructables to make things that sparkle. The great beauty of the fiber optic approach is when you send light from the LEDs down the fibers to the display grid – points of light appear, from which you can create patterns or words, but the fibers, which are completely visible, also shine. Because they’re curved, their glow adds an almost organic look to the background behind the main display, as if a deep-sea bioluminescent creature is powering it instead of a tiny slab of RP2040 silicon. Sending different colors to the screen naturally illuminates the painting in the same hues, producing a restful and mesomeric effect.

ElliotMade has been very busy on the site for someone who only signed up in February 2020 – there are eight projects under his name including a remote control lawn mower, a word clock and a physical mute button for Zoom meetings. There are also two videos on the ElliotMade YouTube Channel About the build, the one we’ve embedded above is a demo of the display, while the other walks us through building the device.

As for its uses, well, the art is its own reward, but ElliotMade suggests it could be developed into a wearable or non-magnetic display for communicating with patients in an MRI scanner, keeping the electronics well ‘difference.


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