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...... Neon ......

Although the colour of neon was great, was never keen on the way the neon looked physically - recessed deep into the torso, with large gaps at the sides exposing the structure of it. To me it looked unfinished, as if it should have had a grill or diffuser plate over the top. And for an "Environmental Control Robot" it certainly didn't look water tight! Also wasn't keen on the high voltage, expense, and fragility of neon.

So seeing on Donald G's web site, "A Slightly Different Robot", what he had done with Luxaura rods, i was immediately interested. When realised that this had the following advantages:

Much less fragile than glass.
Low voltage.
Low current.
Easy to synchronize the flashing with the audio using a simple cheap VU meter.
Allowed for the use of different coloured LED's.
Could vary the pattern of which rods lit up.
Could still bend the 2 at the top into loops to match the look of the neon.
Reasonably inexpensive.
Plus you'd have the satisfaction of scratch building it yourself.

i was sold. Could only see 2 disadvantages:

(1) There is a reflective strip along the back that may(?) be visible at certain angles.
(2) Couldn't find anyone who still sold Luxaura !!!

So decided to have a go at making it myself from 10mm acrylic rods and LED's.

Acrylic rods in place.

Wanted more of the early first season look, with a greater number of rods more closely spaced together. This, combined with the fact that the rods are tough enough to have them butting up against the inside of the torso, and that my back plate is only 2mm behind them, meant the reflector strip was not a problem as it can't be seen from any angle.

The main problem is the BRIGHTNESS - tested lots of configurations before finding one that was happy with. (though still looking out for anything better).

Using bright LED's helps, but it's not the most important factor - doubling the brightness of the LEDs doesn't make the rods look twice as bright. The two factors that seemed to effect the brightness the most were:

(1) Polishing the ends of the rods so that the maximum amount of light from the LED gets into the rod.

(2) Painting the back of the rods with something to reflect the light out of the front of the rod. White paint (which is what i used) worked the best for brightness, the rods look a nice dark orange colour when illuminated, but when off it's a lighter colour than the usual greyish neon. Though it doesn't just look completely white, because your eye is deceived by the bright reflections from the round surface of the rods. Using a silver paint for the reflector gave them a more greyish look similar to neon when off, but wasn't as bright when lit.

Acrylic rods attached to back plate.

Most of the electronic components sold in this country are made overseas, so you can buy the same quality on-line direct from Hong Kong, at a fraction of the cost in shops locally.

A word of warning: Take the specs with a grain of salt, when selling things for a few cents each with free postage, there's not much incentive to pay attention to details. Also they will sometimes tell you whatever you want hear in order to make a sale - they know it's a long way to return it!. Words such as "red" "orange" "amber" "yellow", or "bright" "super-bright" "ultra-bright", are subjective and will vary widely between different sellers and products. Try to go by the specified wavelength for the colour, and the MCD for the brightness, though even these are not always accurate. However they are usually cheap enough that you can buy a few of each type and make the final choice after you've seen them in real life.

LED's from ebay: $26 for 50 with free postage.

These are the LED's i used, they are sold as "red" but to me look much more like orange/amber, they draw 100mA, and are approx 170,000mcd. Typically a LED draws around 20mA, these draw more because they actually have 5 LED's built into one 10mm package. Apart from the added brightness, the advantage is that the light source is more spread out, the wider angle helps to scatter the light out the front of the tube.

...... Flasher ......

It is very easy to make the fake neon flash in sync with the voice using a digital VU meter. Found one on ebay for $3 fully assembled and with free postage.

The VU meter is the green board on the left, the board on the right provides the higher current for the LEDs. The bank of resistors go one to each of the rods so they can be lit up individually, but at the moment they are all commoned together.

The main problem with this sort of setup is what's known as "total internal reflection", that's where light travelling nearly parallel to the sides of the tube, hits the edge at such a small angle that it's reflected back into the tube. It's great for fibre optics where you want all the light to go around corners etc and still come out the other end, but for our purpose anything that comes out the other end of the tube (which is still most of the light) is wasted.

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