We made something massive and strange for the Pi Towers lobby

We wanted a big project for the lobby at Pi Towers: something large and visually impactful. Our Maker in Residence Toby Roberts was inspired by Alex’s (aka SuperMakeSomething) NeoPixel LED mirror, and wanted to do something similar but with a blingy twist. He thought designing something that requires 576 glass crystals was the way to go.

It’s a 24 × 24 grid of NeoPixels, each with one crystal stuck in front of it. The NeoPixels are in an array configuration so they can be individually addressed to do all sorts of fun things. Like the project that inspired it, it can work as an LED mirror, and these functions are controlled by a 7″ Raspberry Pi Touch Display, which shares an enclosure with the power supply on the back of the frame.

We made something massive and strange for the Pi Towers lobby
Most of the time it does the thing from The Matrix
(pinball machine for scale)

Hefty build

It’s a hefty build. The whole thing including the frame weighs about 70kg, because each of the 576 crystals is real glass. That’s as much as many adult humans. Toby spent an entire day blunting the pointy end of each individual crystal with a bench sander so he could fix them to the LED board’s flat surface. He was quite patient about it, but will not be planning any more 576-crystal builds in the near future.

We made something massive and strange for the Pi Towers lobby
This took an entire day

Party tricks

Its big party trick is the mirror thing. Using a Raspberry Pi camera mounted on the top edge of the frame, it captures video of whoever is standing in front of it, converts the footage to 24 × 24-pixel format, and reflects their likeness back in illuminated crystalline form. It’s like a blinged-out version of a supermarket security camera you wave at when you see yourself in the little telly as you go through the automatic doors. It’s a huge hit with visitors to Pi Towers.

Other equally fanciful diversions include the ability to play games and display all sorts of seasonal scenes. So far, Toby has loaded Bricks and Snake, which you play using a custom laser-cut controller. The crystals can also scroll weather updates and the time. We used it as a Christmas decoration in December by displaying a Christmas tree and falling snow. We’ve also had fireworks and birthday cake, and we’re currently gearing up for Valentine’s Day with a big pink-and-red heart. It’s adorable.

We made something massive and strange for the Pi Towers lobby

All these games and effects live on the Raspberry Pi 4 stuck to the back of the mirror. Toby used ChatGPT to help him write the Python scripts for the games and additional effects. So if you’re interested in getting crafty but are daunted by the coding side of things, why not enlist AI to help you out?

We made something massive and strange for the Pi Towers lobby

Want to play with it IRL?

You can see the frame full of crystals if you’re attending the third birthday party CamJam is throwing for us. Toby has had to hire a van and everything to cart this monstrosity across town from Pi Towers, so be sure youto make sufficiently enthusiastic cooing sounds if you see it.

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