Individually addressable incandescent lamps

Everyone playing with electronics these days knows about LED strips made of dozens or hundreds of individually addressable RGB LEDs. I love them and make great use of them in the nootropic design Lumazoid music visualizer. But what about incandescent lamps? Old-school light bulbs with a filament have a soft warm glow that you just can’t get from LEDs. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to control a bunch of lamps individually by setting their brightness in code on a microcontroller? This is just what I set out to do recently, and the results are great.

Individually addressable incandescent lamps

How it works

I simply used the same technology as LED strips to allow communication between lamp modules. LED strips have RGB LEDs with an embedded driver chip which uses PWM (pulse width modulation) to control the duty cycle on the red, green, and blue LEDs. This combined LED/chip is called WS2812 or WS2812B. On older LED strips, the driver chip was not embedded into the LED itself, but was a separate chip called WS2811. These standalone driver chips are somewhat obsolete now which means they are cheap! I got 50 of them on eBay for $5.00. Since these modules use the same technology as LED strips, the same code can be used. Adafruit’s NeoPixel library is a very simple way to control LEDs, so we can control each lamp easily. The lamp is controlled by the “blue” pin on the WS2811 so that is the value to set.

byte brightness = 128;
lamps.setPixelColor(lampNum, pixels.Color(0, 0, brightness));


The driver chip cannot sink enough current to control a lamp directly, so I connected one of the LED output pins (the pin designated for blue) to a P-channel MOSFET. The PWM output from the WS2811 pin controls the MOSFET gate and the MOSFET then controls the current flowing to the lamp. I tried several MOSFETs to find one that worked best for a 5V source and allowed good control at very low PWM duty cycle. The FQP27P06 MOSFET allows the lamp filament to glow at an almost imperceptible level at a PWM duty cycle of 1/255. Since a lamp filament takes a bit of time to turn on/off, there is no flicker at low duty cycles. Nice!

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