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Custom FG Tail Lights!


biddie_fiddler
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  • [IMPULSIV3]
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  • Member For: 3y 4m 14d
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Was gonna dump all this in the off topic thread, but figured I'd create a new thread instead to show y'all the progress of the tail lights I've been building.

 

Made a lot of progress so far, but still a lot to do! Hoping to have a single tail light running in the next couple weeks to show as a proof of concept :)

 

Firstly, what is it? 

Well, I'm glad you asked! Being a classic millennial that's into cars I've always loved the JDM scene. I've always loved the custom tail lights and head lights I see on so many JDM cars and decided I'd make some tail lights inspired by this type of design for my FG falcon.

 

This is a good example of what I'm talking about

1397487_634476366635555_1660009684089719

 

Tail lights such as these use a whole lotta through hole LEDs assembled in a pattern that in my opinion looks awesome. Being an electronics nerd I figured this shouldn't be too hard to do.

This project has definitely not been easy so far and has thrown many challenges my way. Makes me appreciate the people that do this for a living, I see now why custom tail lights have a heavy price tag attached to them.

 

Build Plan

The plan for the lights is relatively simple, replace all the crappy bulb situation with inserts that can hold an array of high power LEDs. This will be done by designing an insert that will be made from laser cut acrlyic to fill the area where the reverse and indicator bulbs used to sit. Same goes for the brake light, but luckily for me, Ford already made an insert for this - however not present in certain tail light variants.

I wanted them to have a few features too, like sequential indicators and a start up animation. Nothing fancy like RGB because that adds too much complexity and will ultimately drive the cost way up. 

I also wanted to make these with the potential of selling to interested parties, meaning that I have to have the option for a completely plug and play system - even if that means limited features.

 

Without giving the complete design away, I ended up with a solution that can do both. But for the set I'm making myself it will not be "plug and play" because the controller will require constant power (accessories) to be able to do a start-up animation. 

 

So basically I needed 3 things:

  • Brake insert
  • Indicator/ reverse insert
  • LED controller

 

There are some LED controllers out there on the market, but they were either stupidly expensive, or wouldn't do what I wanted. So I made my own.

 

 

Some interesting specs I can share now

I started with creating a design spec, basically a word document where I "told a story" of what I wanted out of the lights, this lead to what I would eventually need to design.

 

Brakes

The brake insert has a total of 80 LEDs. 35 of which are arranged in a type of ring around the insert, acting as the park brake, the rest of which are arranged inside this ring that will be the brake light. This outer ring can be set up to have each LED individually addressable to allow me to create a start-up animation. 

FCx1Mpo.png

 

Indicator & Reverse

The insert is made from 3mm acrylic that is laser cut and then heated and shaped to fit into the housing. It features 22 white LEDs on the bottom two rows for reverse, and 36 amber LEDs for the indicator in the upper two rows. Each column of the indicators are addressable so that I can create sequential indicators.

9qCc2es.png

 

LED Controller PCB

The controller is designed to either be plug and play or not to have more features. It has 4 inputs that can be used as triggers to do stuff. They are also up to 20V tolerant, surge and reverse polarity protected. Same goes for the power input.

There are a total of 32 constant current LED driver channels capable of up to 45mA per channel (if you know much about LEDs, this is PLENTY). There is also previsions to extend the channel outputs to 64 by using a second, less populated LED controller PCB.

Not really much else to talk about that's interesting to most folk that's on the board so I'll leave it at that.

s04prlj.jpg

 

 

To date, I have assembled both indicator inserts complete with LEDs, and both brake inserts minus the park LEDs. I have assembled and tested one LED controller.

I'm currently working on the code for the controller, and once that is done I can start testing and improving the code. 

Will share more when I have more, for now, I'll throw some more pics of the progress in a few replies :)

2 of the 3 brake light arrays tested. Total draw is going to be about 0.5A. A fraction of what a bulb draws. Pitty this will likely f*ck with the cars BCM, so I'll have to add a load resistor onto the car once they're installed. 

f8TneOi.jpgic7vuXz.jpg

First ever test fit on the indicator and reverse insert. Was a very exciting moment for me! This is what took the most time to design. 

 

Installing the reverse LEDs into the insert. I'll take some snaps of what they look like now when I get home!

EewUVaZ.jpgMZzZUlB.jpg

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  • [IMPULSIV3]
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Average price for custom tail lights is around $800AUD.

 

So far I've spent around $400. Hoping to eventually have a solid system that I could sell as kits for people to diy, or be able to have a service where I can do it for people. Its a long term goal that I'd love to see fulfilled. I don't know how many people would actually commit to purchasing such a thing.

 

I have had like 8 people dm me on instagram saying they're interested.... But whether they'd actually pay for it is a different story.

 

This is a very difficult thing to do, its taken me a lot of time to learn how to take tail lights apart, and do all this design and development. I fear that people will just see the product and the price and go "that's too expensive" without truly comprehending how much time, effort, and money goes into making such a product.

 

I suppose though, this happens with A LOT of things in life

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Slow progress on the LED controller. Fried some of the LED driver ICs and the board wouldn't work unless it was hooked up to the programmer.

Turns out I did a rookie mistake and didn't connect a pin on the microcontroller :facepalm:

It is fixable but inconvenient. For the cost of PCBs it'd be better if I just revised the PCB and ordered more, which is what I'm going to do. 

I chose a very cheap MCU for this project too so I can keep the build cost down, but an issue I have come across that I didn't think would happen is that I'm running out of RAM... Hoping I have enough by the time I'm done with the code, just something I need to be weary of. 

 

Another issue I found was that I didn't account for the voltage supplied to the LED controller. I just assumed that >10V would be fine.... It is not. I fried some chips testing over 6V. I will need to supply the LEDs with 5V instead of the 12-14V from the car, I will add a 5V regulator in line for now and determine if its worth me adding this to the board. eBay sells heaps of cheap 5V converters I can use.

 

Plan is to continue the code from here using the current design. Once the code is done with control for indicators and brakes I can see if I need to change the MCU for one with more RAM. I don't want to revise the PCB now only to find I need to change the MCU.

 

Here's a video of it finally functioning without the programmer (the programmer was connected in the vid, but I had already confirmed it worked without it)

Just testing a single output, 22 of these channels will be used for the indicator :) 

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Bored at work, used photoshop to plan some patterns I can create, like start-up animations and what not. Here's one for the park lights that I quite like. Bear in mind this is as fast and as smooth as I can get the gif, it'd be a sh*t tonne smoother when implemented :) 

I had to pair up LEDs because without it there are 35 LEDs, and I have 32 channels available :cry:

With enough speed I think this can still work

 

fPdMOnS.gif

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BIG UPDATE BIG WIN MUCH HAPPY

 

Over the weekend I managed to wire up a complete indicator/reverse insert and brake insert. I also finally got the indicators wired to the main board.

After a bit of time fixing my buggy af code I  got the demo of the sequential indicator working!!!!

Will need to play around with the timing to get the speed just right, but that's not a hard thing to do.

Moving onto installing the park lights into the brake insert and wiring them up to a secondary board, and if all goes well I'll have a working startup demo of the DRL setup by this time next week 😄 

Took some cool snaps too that I'll dump in here... :) 

 

 

 

Brake Light test

Very farking bright, considering changing out the resistors to reduce the brightness cause this is a bit much lol. Might also consider just adding in a step down converter to reduce the voltage too... saves me needing to remove the resistors.

The nerdy amongst you may notice the current draw, is under 300mA!!! that's like 5x lower than a bulb lol. Too bad that won't matter because the car will freak out without a load resistor to make it think there's a bulb in place.

pmawAhJ.jpg

 

 

Wiring the indicators was a process!

My plan is to have this be a connector, but I don't have the right crimp tool for the JST 2.0mm connector unfortunately 😞 

MmDrUMH.jpgfID6CiT.jpg

 

 

Wiring loom getting some love

My lights will be the full show, so that means they need a constant power source. Added a wire into the loom as there is a free spot in the loom connector for one, bonus! Drilled a hole through the indicator connector and put it through there, same with the waterproof boot, I punched a small hole in it and forced the wire through so that its water tight. The terminals on the bulb connectors are all roughed up and cleaned with IPA, and wires are soldered to them. I will be using a black epoxy to fill the connectors so that the wires are held and do not move around, this is a common issue with soldered joins as it will stress them and cause them to fail.

RTlx32w.jpg

 

Oh and one thing with the looms, the bulb connector/socket things have no O-Rings on them because they were f*cked, I have measured them and ordered a bunch to replace them :) 

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