This year’s work holiday party was Back to the Future themed. I didn’t have any good costume ideas, so with a week to go, I decided to build a portable flux capacitor to bring instead.


The first thing I did was to order some addressable RGB LED strips online.

First prototype

First prototype

I bought some clear tubing at the hardware store and cut the LED strips to size. I then used a Teensy LC that I got at the Hackaday Superconference with the FastLED library to start playing with the LEDs.

Teensy-LC

Teensy-LC

My first attempt used cardboard for the front plate, but the clear tubing was stronger than I expected and did not like being bent that much. The tube would either pop out of its place or bend the cardboard.

Behind the LED strips

Behind the LED strips

I had some leftover alder wood boards from other projects, so I decided to use that instead. It was just large enough to fit the tubes, about the right size for the box I had, and strong enough to hold everything in place.

Full board from behind

Full board from behind

After making sure everything fit, I spray painted the board silver (because that’s the only color I had.)

Full board from up front

Full board from up front

I cut a box I had to get the board to fit and glued the rest of it together. I painted that silver as well.

Partial box

Partial box

Everything fit in place, but was loose. Thankfully, I have lots of hot glue, so I used that.

Board in box

Board in box

I cut another piece of cardboard to make a ‘window’, glued a piece of clear plastic onto it, and then hot glued that onto the box.

Final setup - dark

Final setup - dark

It’s nowhere near close to what it looked like in the movie, but this was more of a rushed job for a party than an actual movie prop replica. (And it’s portable!) I used a USB battery pack to power it with no issues.

Final setup - lit up

Final setup - lit up

If you’re interested, take a look at the Teensy code on github.

Controls

Controls

The controls on the side consist of two potentiometers and a button all connected to the Teensy. They are used to adjust speed, brightness, and color changes.