Learning how to control microcontrollers over the internet is the cornerstone to the DIY smart home hobby. All you need is a microcontroller with onboard Wi-Fi or a separate Wi-Fi module, and before you know it, you are blinking LEDs over the local network - the possibilities seem endless.
Would you, however, open up that network to the wider internet to let strangers change the color of your Xmas tree and even draw pictures on the baubles? That's exactly what YouTube Maker OllieQ has done with his Interactive Christmas Tree website! In his case, however, the baubles are LED screens that anyone on the internet can draw on, and somehow, so far, the internet has been behaving.
It's a wonderfully simple idea but it must have taken some crazy behind-the-scenes setup. See it in action in this timed section of this week's Electromaker Show:
While there isn't one yet, I imagine you can expect a video about the tree on the OllieQ YouTube channel (which you should go and subscribe to right now). OllieQ is the online moniker of Ollie Pugh, a Maker based in the UK. The project clearly shows a good understanding of how embedded systems work and how to deploy them over the internet. Perhaps the nicest thing about this project, however, is the reasoning behind it. Ollie is using his skills to make something fun everyone can enjoy while simultaneously showing the world just how fun embedded electronics and programming can be.
Make Your Own Version
Want to make your own version of this and don't know where to start? Well, the good news is that the hardware you need is low-cost and well-documented. While we don't know exactly the kit Ollie used, a great place to start would be an ESP32-based development board. They are supported by the Arduino IDE and also MicroPython, which are both beginner friendly.
For a screen, why not start off with something a little smaller, like an I2C OLED display? As for LEDs, it's hard to go wrong with the OG of addressables: Neopixels! Getting these things talking to each other is a wonderful adventure for any tinkerer, and it looks great too! We'd love to see what kind of colorful flashing you get up to, so post your builds in the Electromaker Projects section!