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Building the Cylon Eye.

 If there ever was a project that fit into the category of useless, this would be it. However, it is a very fun project... and actually maybe not so useless afterall.


Sports Quiz:

Which TV series occured first?

Battlestar Galactica?


Knight Rider?


If you answered "Battlestar Galactica" you would be correct. It hit the airways in 1978, while Knight Rider didn't come along until 1982, four years later.

In the TV series, the "Cylons" were a race of psuedo-android robots that were hell-bent on taking over the Universe, and eradicating the Human race in the process. They had a Red sweeping "eye" built into their helmet that served as a scanner. This sensor swept from left to right, and back to the left again in a continuous pattern.

In the later series Knight Rider, the Pontiac supercar "Kitt" also featured a similar sweeping red sensor built into the hood.

However, since the Cylon featured this "eye" first, I am paying homage to the more sinister version by naming this project "The Cylon Eye".

Those of you that remember might claim that "Gort" the Android-Robot from the movie "The day the Earth Stood Still" was the first to have such an "eye". However, it was not quite the same eye as (1) it did not sweep from side-to-side, and (2) it shot a death ray that vaporized their adversary. Since I have not figured out how to make the death ray feature, I am going with Cylon.

So if you get the idea this is a silly project, you would be correct.

In the nose of my RV, there is a light strip consisting of 9 LEDs. The light strip is a maintenance/hitch light to illuminate the hitch area at night to assist in connecting the trailer. There is a switch on the RV that turns the light on and off.



A couple of months ago, I started noticing that the clear plastic part of the LED strip began to yellow under the sunlight, so I was thinking of replacing it. But an Idea struck me... instead of just replacing the LED strip, why don't I automate the LEDs with a few light patterns? I could retain the original White maintenance/hitch light function of the LED strip, but when that function is not needed... for example, setup at the RV park; why not automate the strip into a Cylon Eye?

So this project will turn the LED strip on and off with the following functions:

  • White maintenance/hitch light
  • Cylon Eye
  • Marquee
  • Rainbow
  • Demo (runs through Cylon, Marquee, Rainbow effects then repeat)

To accomplish this, I will be using addressible WS2812 equivalent RGBW leds. And the Marquee and Rainbow effects are simply because I have enough space in the microcontroller, and it is a nice demo of the capabilities of the addressible LEDs.

So over the last couple of months, I have been designing circuits, ordering circuit boards, and constructing the project. But at the 11th hour - just when I am ready to install the project into my 5th wheel, that darned idea lightbulb went off in my head again.

I did not realize the idea until I took the above photo in preparation of this webpage. But I realized, why not add an accelerometer to the circuit board, and construct an electronic version of the "spirit level" (that thing below the LED strip in the photo marked Acculevel) so I can see how level the trailer is at night. If you have never used one of these levels, they work great as you can drive around the campsite with the trailer attached to the truck, and by looking out your rear view mirror, you can tell at which spot the trailer is the most level left-to-right.

Since this project is just about completed, I will plan on adding the accelerometer as a project update. I am not sure if the accelerometer can provide the resolution for this project, so I don't want to delay the project banking on whether or not the accelerometer function will work.




To tackle the UV yellowing problem, I found a similar LED strip but with a black rather than clear bezel. This hopefully will not have the same issue. Besides, the only place I could find the clear strip was from the RV Manufacturer's parts department, and was a painful $40+. I found several of the black versions for under $10.



The black LED strip is slightly shorter than the clear one, but not so much that there will be a problem with the mounting. The holes almost align perfectly, and there should be no issue in using them. Besides, they are less expensive and hopefully immune to UV damage, so this is the choice of the strip I will use.

The Cylon Eye consists of two components, the LED Strip which I have to modify by installing addressible LEDs, and a driver module.



There are actually three versions of the Cylon Eye. The above version I am calling the "RV" version, and a second version adds an accellerometer to the RV version (more about that later). And the third version I am calling the "Golf Cart" version (yes, I am building the second version for my golf cart). The LED strip is the same for all versions, with the only real difference in how the various patterns are switched on and off. For the RV version, you can see in the photo above that there is a rotary switch on the end of the silver case (driver box). This rotary switch selects which display mode the LED strip will be in. For the Golf Cart version, two external switches must be attached to the driver box. This allows the LED strip to be controlled by switches on a dashboard.



So sharpen your tools and dust off your brain cells... lets get started.






Last reviewed and/or updated July 31, 2017