Hacking a Candleflicker LED

Let’s reverse-engineer a LED, pedantic mode.

Lately, cheap electronic candles seem to be everywhere. I never paid much attention to them until recently it came to my attention that they actually use a special type of light emitting diode with integrated “candleflicker” controller. Now this is something different – who doesn’t like obscure LEDs? Half an hour later I had managed to score a bag of candleflicker-LEDs from the chinese manufacturer.

Very nice, you can not do that with real candles. But the interesting part is of course: How do they work? Considering that they literally sell for a few cents a piece, there can not be very expensive electronics involved. This raises another question: Are these cheap LEDs really worse than all the self-made microcontroller based LED-candles around the web?

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Breadboardable break-out board for the NXP LPC812

The NXP LPC800 series is an interesting entry in the Cortex M0+ microcontroller market, aiming to replace 8 bit microcontrollers at the low end. The largest member of the family, the LPC812 is a device with 16kb flash and 4kb SRAM. It is available in a TSSOP20 package which is really small, but still easily solderable. Since I prefer to work with microcontrollers with as little added clutter as possible, I designed a small break-out board for this device.

The board includes push buttons for reset and activating the serial bootloader. It has an integrated 500mA 3.3V LDO to supply both the MCU and connected devices from the USB port. The four pins on the top side (5V,RX,TX,GND) can be used to connect a cheap USB to serial adapter (<$2 on ebay) and program the device via the internal bootloader using FlashMagic.

The entire board with LPC812 is smaller than a DIP LPC1114. Due to it’s narrow design, it is even useful on very small 170 pin bread-boards.

The Github repository has all design data.