Some thoughts on NeoPixels/SmartLEDs

I just had my third LED fail in the lantern set. It doesn’t bode well for future maintenance on this project and others still in the making.

My lantern project has 16 lanterns, each with 12 LEDs for a total of 192 LEDs. I’ve had the solution mostly running since beginning of April. For the most part, they are continuously powered, but usually on for 10 hours a night. I expected some failures, but these seems to be at a higher rate than expected. Worse, this last LED failed as a short, which made it harder to diagnose. The previous two died in an open circuit, which means, the first LED that doesn’t turn on, is the dead one. In this case, I had to pull the lantern, and cut into the 12 wire string until I found the bad LED, replace and wire everything back up.

Some lessons learned:

Always have a test controller on hand

With a open circuit failure, I could figure out, while sitting at the side walk the dead lantern, mark the bulb, take it in and replace it. With the a shorted bulb, I mostly needed to test at a bench with a live controller. While not true, as the shorted bulb was obvious once I applied power (ie current draw on the supply meter), I had to do so many cuts and repairs that it made sense to test the string parts as I went along.

So, first step, build another controller board. It cooperated and worked the first time. I will be building another in the next week for my back patio, where my first Tiki project, Blinky, will end up living.

I’ll design and print a case for this controller sometime in the near future. I’ve done a case before, but they are still a bit of a challenge.

Design the project to allow for easy access to the LEDs

This has already impacted my Blinky project. The eye LEDs will need to be accessible.

The lanterns weren’t a bad design. I can get into a lantern with 4 screws. The LEDs aren’t glued in. The lantern head can be easily removed (small plug).

That said, I would have considered investing in a bunch more plugs to allow each six wire strip to be easily removed, tested and worked on. It wouldn’t have been that much more work and only a buck or two more per lantern.

Have bypass plugs on standby

Each lantern is in parallel for power, but the LEDs are programmed serially. Both the incoming and outgoing data line is in the same plug. I’ve always had the ability to make a socket that allowed the data to flow past a missing lantern allowing the rest of the lights to work. I’ve been too lazy to actually make it. I need to do so.


I’m still happy with the lanterns. I’ve been cleaning up the animation software and tying it into my Home Assistant home automation system (new project that has distracted me for the last two weeks). While there have been some painful lessons, the results are still holding up.

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