Nearly two years ago, the L8 SmartLight project was launched on Kickstarter. I was an early backer of the project, and continue to see value in the concept. The device contains an 8×8 grid of LEDs, with each capable of displaying the entire rainbow of colors. This grid can be used to display various symbols and messages. By connecting the device to a computer, tablet, or smart phone, one can use it to display notifications or other messages. The device has enormous potential; only limited by the software developed for it.
You could connect it to your phone, and use it to display a symbol when you get an e-mail, or someone posts something on Facebook. You could connect it to a server, and have it display an alert when an error occurs. The device also contains an accelerometer and temperature, proximity, luminosity, and noise sensors. These sensors help to expand upon the possible uses of the device. You could use it to monitor and display the current temperature, monitor current light levels, change the display to the beat of the surrounding noise, and so on. The Kickstarter page did a great job of running through all of the possibilities.
After numerous delays, the product has finally begun to ship to backers. While the device has turned out pretty solid, and as originally described, the software and documentation are still works-in-progress. The first step in getting the SmartLight working is to get the drivers and software installed on a computer. Since the official documentation is pretty sparse, I’ve put together a better set of directions to help others get up and running on a Windows-based computer. These directions were written based upon Windows 7, but should be easily adapted to other versions of Windows. Keep reading for the full rundown.
Installing the Software
The first thing you need to do is install the L8 DFU Lite tool and the L8 Control Center Lite. The DFU tool is the more important of the two, as it is used to update the firmware on the SmartLight. You could probably skip the Control Center, as it doesn’t do much at this point, but it gives you a chance to play with the device a bit, so it’s worth installing.
- Download the latest versions of the DFU and Control Center tools from this page: http://www.l8smartlight.com/downloads/.
- You’ll need .NET Framework 4.0 and 4.5 to run the tools. Most Windows users will already have those installed, but just in case, here are links to the .NET Framework 4.0 and .NET Framework 4.5 installers. Install 4.0, then 4.5, and then run Windows Update to get up-to-date on patches.
- Extract the installers for the L8 tools from their .zip files, and install them.
Installing the Drivers
According to L8’s installation directions, you should already have the necessary SmartLight drivers installed, but I didn’t find that to be the case. So, let’s get those installed.
- We installed the software first because it also places the SmartLight drivers on your computer. The drivers still need to be installed, though.
- Turn on the SmartLight by holding the clear button/LED on the of the unit, then plug it into a free USB port on your computer.
- Open Device Manager in the Control Panel. If you see STM32 Virtual ComPort in FS Mode listed (see Figure 1), then you need to install the drivers.
- Assuming you need to install the drivers, disconnect the SmartLight, then run the driver installer located here on a 64-bit system: C:\Program Files (x86)\SmartLight Inc\Drivers\VCOM__stsw-stm32102__v1.3.1\.
- If you’re running a 32-bit system, you’ll find the drivers in Program Files, instead of Program files (x86).
- 32- and 64-bit installers are available. Run the version appropriate to your system. See this website if you need help determining whether you’re running a 32- or 64-bit system.
- Once the drivers are installed, plug the SmartLight back in to your computer. You should then see STMicroelectronics Virtual COM Port in the Device Manager (Figure 2). You should also see the device in Devices and Printers (Figure 3).
- Note the COM port shown next to the device. You need to enter that when using the Control Center software.
Next, we’ll install the Recovery Mode drivers. These drivers are necessary to update the SmartLight’s firmware.
- With the SmartLight on and connected to a USB port, open the L8 DFU Lite software (found in the L8 SmartLight folder in the Start Menu). If the device isn’t found, then you can try clicking the Find L8 button.
- Click the Enter Recovery Mode button (as seen in Figure 4). This will reboot the device in recovery mode. Once the SmartLight has rebooted (you should see alternating white and blue LEDs on the top of the device), close the DFU tool.
- Now, head back into the Device Manager and see how the SmartLight shows up. If you see DFU in FS Mode (Figure 5), then you need to install the recovery mode drivers.
- To install the drivers, right-click on the DFU in FS Mode listing and choose Update Driver Software…
- Click Browse my computer for driver software, then click the Browse… button.
- Browse to C:\Program Files (x86)\SmartLight Inc\Drivers\DFU Driver\.
- You’ll get a warning, as the driver isn’t signed. Choose Install this driver software anyway, then close the window.
- You should now see STM Device in DFU Mode listed in the Device Manager (Figure 6).
- Once the recovery mode drivers are installed, re-open the DFU tool.
Updating the SmartLight’s Firmware
You will want to regularly check for and install updated firmware on your L8 SmartLight. Firmware is the software stored directly on the SmartLight device. It tells the device how to respond to the various commands it receives.
- First, open the L8 DFU Lite tool.
- Click the Update L8 Software button (see Figure 7) to download and install the latest SmartLight firmware.
- When the firmware update has completed, click the Leave Recovery Mode button (Figure 8). This will turn off the SmartLight. You can then close the DFU tool and disconnect the SmartLight.
- You can now turn the SmartLight back on and use it as you normally would.
Trying Out the SmartLight
Now that the various drivers are installed, and the SmartLight’s firmware has been updated, you can start trying it out. Software is pretty lacking right now, but it does exist. You can try out the Control Center that we installed earlier, or try pairing it with your iPhone or Android device.
Software will make or break the future of the L8 SmartLight. Unfortunately, the long delays in the delivery of the device soured many developers on the platform. One can only hope that it will catch on and get a bit more attention in the future.