IKEA Frekvens LED box hack

Ikea is an interesting store. Even if you go in having in mind you’re only going to buy that
one thing that you actually need and this time you’re not going to be distracted by other
crap, you tend to come out with about three times the amount of things you wanted to buy. For
us hackers, especially Ikea-fare equipped with a power cord or batteries has this effect.

For me, the most recent time this struck was when I was back in the Netherlands. I was there on a
planned visit, intending to only stay a few weeks. However, this was in the beginning of 2020 and
the entire COVID-19 debacle was just beginning… I was about to be away from my lab for a fair
longer than that.

So when I saw the Frekvens
range of electronics at Ikea, I couldn’t help myself and bought one of them.
For those not in the know: The Ikea Frekvens range of things is intended to be the modern equivalent
of the old-school ‘HiFi’ set plus the ubiquitous set of hexagonal disco light half the teenagers seemed
to own during the ’90s. In this case, the range of inter-connectable devices consists of a Bluetooth speaker for
audio output and a LED spot (extendable with multiple covers) to flash to the beat, as well as a LED
display cube that can display animations that move to the beat as well. Ikea boasts that the range
is developed in cooperation with Teenage Engineering, known for their Pocket Operator set of portable
‘toy’ synthesizers.

As illustrated on Ikea’s promotional video,
the end result of buying a few dozen of them would be an obnoxious blink-fest, something my inner 15-year old
would not mind having in his room.

Especially the LED display cube interested me: it was a nicely integrated box running directly off
of mains power. On the front, it had a matrix of 16 rows and 16 columns of very bright white LEDs,
making for a total
of 256 LEDs. The animations that were built in to the box were somewhat simple but they did lead me to
believe the hardware could actually control each LED individually. The downside is that the little box
was a bit on the pricey side: it set me back EUR40 or so. For that, you get the box with the LEDs and a
power cord. As they assume you buy this thing in combination with other products in the Frekvens line,
you also get some stuff to hook it up to that: a power extension cord to ‘loop through’ the mains to
other boxes, as well as a set of screws and plastic straps that you can use to mechanically secure
the boxes to each other.

As soon as I got home, I plugged the device in, and… it’s kind-of disappointing what they did with
the hardware, to be honest. The device has a few animations, selectable by pressing a button on the
back of the device; there is a little microphone in the box and every time it detects noise, it will
advance the animation by one frame. The animations all are not very impressive: they’re only four or
five frames long, and the frames themselves are black-and-white only; no grayscales. If you’re interested:
I made a quick video of all the animations.

Obviously, this won’t do. Let’s crack it open and see what makes this thing tick, and if it can be made a bit more

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