During my LED-googling, I also ran across the Neopixel light strips. Those are strips made of WS2812 LEDs - RGB LEDs with integrated 2811 controller. Thanks to Adafruit there also is a control library, which makes it reasonably easy to control those things with an Arduino.

Here is an idea of integrated navigation and anti-collision lights for a quad:

4 segments, 1 red, 1 green and 2 white for left, right and rear arms, showing navigation colors and doubling as an anti-collision strobe. Those WS2812 are not immensely bright but hey - nobody said you can only use 3 per arm :).
And they probably work great for a plane too, just put half a meter of strip to every wing. That IS gonna be bright.

US-residents probably best get the strips from Adafruit. If you are in Europe, KT-Electronic's eBay-shop should be the right address.

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Comment by Stephen Gienow on June 11, 2013 at 1:47pm

I would love to use this to indicate flight modes!  That is, there's a different color for each flight mode, which is displayed as you switch between them.  And perhaps you could add in a flashing sequence that only starts once the battery falls below a certain threshold.  A visual battery alarm!  

Comment by Anders Hansen on June 11, 2013 at 2:38pm

I've used the WS2812 strips for many projects, and was thinking of implementing it on my hexacopter as well. The thing that stopped me initially was the fact that the code that you need to run to address them is very computeintensive. (800kHz bitbanging a none-standard protocol) This means that you can't just import it into the APM sketch, as this would eat up too many CPU cycles on an already very thin budget. The way to solve the problem would be to implemented the LED-code a stand-alone arduino (I prefer the teensy 2.0 due to its size), and have this listen to commands on the telemetry UART or alternatively to the A5-A9 LED-pins. This would ensure that your CPU budget still fits the bill ;)

Comment by Anders Hansen on June 11, 2013 at 2:44pm

Also the led strips are much cheaper on aliexpress.com, as long as you can wait the week or to it takes to get them shipped all the way from China.. I think I payed around 13 USD per meter incl shipping, but I had to order 4 meters..

Comment by Jesse on June 12, 2013 at 4:28am

I'm working on an implementation right now, I have a couple of software bugs to sort out, but I've got 20 different patterns so far, including moving patterns.  they are really good, but somewhat power hungry.  FYI you can drive 6 strips from a arduino nano easily enough. 

Comment by Stefan Gofferje on June 12, 2013 at 7:27am

I'm not so much a fan of UFO-effects. I think it does look cool and sometimes pretty but it can draw negative attention. I try to keep the lighting for my aircraft at least close to general aviation standards.

I got a set ready now. Based on an Arduino Nano, I soldered 5 JR plug (male) pigtails to the Nano's DOUTs 5-9. Config is front left, front right, rear left, rear right and beacon. FL-FR are 3 LEDs each, beacon are 9+3 LEDs, 9 for the belly and 3 for the top (or maybe I switch this...)

The whole thing connects to the RX for power and also control. If the PWM is <1500, the lights are in standby mode, showing only 2+1 green dot at 1/4 brightness on the beacon strips, a bit like military formation lights. I might change this to more LEDs with less brightness. PWM >1500 switches to flight mode. FR shows red with white strobe, FR shows green with white strobe, RL and RR show white (1/4 brightness) with white strobe and beacon pulses red.

Comment by Stefan Gofferje on June 12, 2013 at 7:28am

...beacon pulses red with white strobe...

Comment by Joe Frazier on June 12, 2013 at 10:49am

Thanks for the info, Stefan. I ordered me some; was going to design a separate board for driving my 12V RGB LED strips, but using these bad boys will be much easier. No HV drivers or level shifters needed, either! You are hereby awarded 10 CoolBeans! :-)

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