Celebrate Art Month with Some of Our Favorite Freeform Circuitry

These freeform circuits showcase artistic creativity in a new light by arranging components in fun ways with wire and solder.

Freeform circuits

Art is not limited to just paintings and sculptures, and circuitry is no exception. Unlike the usual projects which normally use a breadboard or PCB to conduct signals between components, freeform circuits consist of parts that have been arranged in 3D space with stiff wires running between them, thus creating a type of functional sculpture. So in honor of Art Month here on Hackster, we have compiled a list of amazing freeform circuits.

Blooming mechanical tulip

Jiří Praus' whimsical mechanical tulip reacts to even the gentlest touch thanks to its integrated TTP223 capacitive touch sensor. The entire assembly was formed by soldering 2mm brass tubing into an array of six individual petals along with a central stalk. Each petal contains five white SMD LEDs, which are electrically connected through an outer ground conductor and an inner PWM wire. Seven additional LEDs in the center can illuminate in a variety of colors, with everything being connected to a single Arduino Nano hidden in the base. One of the most fun aspects of the tulip is that it can retract or unfurl its petals using a hidden pushrod and servo motor.

LED tower art

In the same vein as the previous project, this LED tower can produce brilliant light shows with its array of 288 RGB lights, which have been arranged into a tall cylinder. All of the APA106 LEDs were placed onto a set of 12, 8-inch rings that each hold 24 LEDs. And although the tower could easily draw 17 amps at full brightness, Doug Domke, the project's creator, took special care to ensure it would not exceed 2A. The code running on the Arduino Uno does everything from producing spinning helices, illuminating columns of differently-colored LEDs, and even simulates a wobbling ring within.

Mayak by ::vtol::

In keeping with ::vtol::'s previous work, mayak is a highly abstract piece that utilizes Wi-Fi signals to generate patterns of light and sound. At the top are four Wi-Fi access points, each presenting a network to which people can connect. From here, an Arduino Uno reads the resulting activity lights and interprets the blinking LEDs as various instruments. After being sent to four other green LEDs and an accompanying Axoloti Core synthesizer board, rapid bursts of sound come out the pair of speakers.

Freeform earring

Hackster's very own Alex Glow has been tinkering with freeform circuits for a while, and these earrings in the classic Art Deco-style are an elegant way to showcase that experience. Each one was formed by taking two CR2032 coin-cell battery holders and soldering them together in order to double the current. Next, a pair of resistors were attached to each side and angled upwards to form a point at the top as well as create a current limit. Finally, the centerpiece 10mm LED was connected at the base so it could swing freely.

LED chaser

Unlike other LED sculptures that are in a fixed, unchanging shape, this truly freeform circuit can move in nearly any direction. Made by Devanagaraj, this project relies on a central Arduino Nano that has been surrounded by a hexagonal copper rod. A total of 18 LEDs were then soldered to thin copper wire along with an in-series current-limiting resistor and attached to the hexagon and Arduino Nano. An infrared receiver at the end picks up incoming commands and can play various effects accordingly.

ATtiny85 handheld snake game

After becoming tired of seeing every pocket-sized arcade game being encased in a layer of opaque plastic, Hackster user wiresauce decided to implement a game of snake on an ATtiny85 while simultaneously showcasing exactly how it was put together. He first took two pieces of plywood and hand-drilled holes for routing the copper wire between components. After laying them out and doing a bit of soldering, he uploaded the firmware that displays the game on a central I2C OLED screen.

Calculator and clock

Coming in as one of the most complex and intricate circuits on this list, Dennis was inspired by Mohit Bhoite's projects to create one of his own in the form of a combination calculator and clock. Instead of the traditional LCD screen at the top, it instead uses two rows of eight LEDs to show 8-bit digits with the help of a 16-channel multiplexer. Time is kept with a real-time clock module that, in turn, is read and interpreted by an ATmega328P MCU.

Illuminated heart

This wearable LED badge does more than simply light up- it emulates a beating heart while also being heart-shaped. To accomplish this difficult feat, Jiří Praus' 3D-printed a custom jig that held each of the 46 WS2812B LEDs in place so they could be soldered together. Once completed, the heart was wired into an external ATtiny85 chip and powered with a 1,000mAh battery cell.

COVID virus blinky

Like with many other viruses, the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the one which causes COVID-19) contains its genetic instructions in a long sequence of RNA. Paul Klinger was able to take the sequenced genetic encoding and create a very interesting circuit from the data. His freeform virus blinky houses an ATtiny1614 microcontroller in its center along with sets of red, green, blue, and yellow LEDs for denoting the nucleotides. After powering it on, it goes through each one and "reads" back the sequence.

Atari punk console

Based on the ubiquitous 555 timer, the Atari Punk Console is one of the simplest audio generating circuits out there. But when Emily Velasco encountered it, she was able to take the concept several steps further with her LED-modulated sculpture. Two potentiometers adjust the frequency of the square wave and the volume, although Velasco also included an RGB LED at the top that cycles through various colors to causes changes in a photocell's output voltage, and thus, modulate the sound even more.

Smart wristwatch

The Skeleton Watch by Mile takes the concept of a sleek, fashion-first smartwatch and flips it on its head by displaying its internal components proudly. It works using an ATmega328P microcontroller connected to a 128x64 OLED screen that displays the time, date, and even a stopwatch with millisecond resolution. The exposed USB port on the side is used for uploading new programs and setting the time, while the battery can keep the watch powered for nearly a month of moderate usage.

Arduino “having11” Guy
21 year-old IoT and embedded systems enthusiast. Also produce content for Hackster.io and love working on projects and sharing knowledge.
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