April 11, 2021

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DIY All-Transistor Addressable Pixel

By now most readers should be used to addressable LEDs, devices that when strung out in a connected chain can be individually lit or extinguished by a serial data stream. Should you peer at one under a microscope you’ll see alongside the LED dies an integrated circuit that handles all the address decoding. It’s likely to be quite a complex device, but how simply can its functions be replicated? It’s a theme [Tim] has explored in the TransistorPixel, and addressable LED board that achieves addressability with only 17 transistors.

It uses a surprisingly straightforward protocol, in which a pulse longer than 500ns enables the LED while a shorter one turns it off. Subsequent pulses in a train are passed on down the line to the next device. A 20µs absence of a pulse resets the string and sets it to wait for the next pulse train. Unlike the commercial addressable LEDS there is only a single colour and no suport for gradated brightness, but it’s still an impressive circuit.

Under the hood is some very old-school RTL logic, a monostable to detect the pulse and a selection of gates and a latch to capture the state and forward to the chain. It’s laid out on a PCB in order of circuit function, and while we can see that maybe it’s not a practical addresssable LED for 2021, it’s likely that it could be made into a much smaller PCB if desired.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the ready availability of addressable LEDs, we’ve not seen many home made ones. This addressable 7-segment display may be the closest.