Pico-powered progress bar

Do you tend to keep an eye on the clock during the working day? In the latest issue of The MagPi, Nicola King learns how watching for a rainbow is far more enjoyable.

We have all, let’s be honest, clock-watched at some point in our working lives. Well, friends of The MagPi, Martin Spendiff and Vanessa Bradley have come up with a little idea that might improve your working day, bringing a colourful rainbow display at close of business, where once there was the face of a benign and mundane clock. This physical Progress Bar could be just the ticket to brighten up your office and gladden your soul.

A Raspberry Pi Pico W fetches the time from the internet and controls the LEDs. Pico Progress Bar.
A Raspberry Pi Pico W fetches the time from the internet and controls the LEDs

Inspiration, Martin tells us, came from “a fondness for clocks and way too much time looking at progress bars. As a random bit of pub trivia… the progress bar was first used long before computers were invented – back in the 1800s.”

So, Veeb’s fresh take on the concept began percolating and, armed with a Raspberry Pi Pico W, a metre-long piece of frame from a hardware shop, a plastic light diffuser, and a one‑metre, 144-LED, 5 V addressable LED strip, the duo set to work.

The colours of the rainbow signify that work time is over. Pico Progress Bar.
The colours of the rainbow signify that work time is over

A work in… progress

Martin and Vanessa quickly put the hardware together, wrote some MicroPython code, and then connected Pico W, which is the brain of the Progress Bar. “Pico W connects to the internet and finds out what time it is,” reveals Martin. “After that, it checks the working hours (that you put into the code). It just does a little bit of arithmetic to figure out if you’re at work, and how far through the day you are. It’s then easy to figure out how many lights in the [LED] strip it should turn on.”

Cleverly, the pair also incorporated a link to Google Calendar, so any appointments are shown on the bar (and constantly updated through the day), and the bar also flashes at appointment time as a vibrant reminder, although Martin envisages that maybe “a Knight Rider-style sweep would be better!” Linking to Google Calendar was admittedly “tricky”, says Martin, but the gcalcli command-line tool handles all the Google authorisation.

Fitting the Progress Bar to the top of 
a whiteboard
Fitting the Progress Bar to the top of a whiteboard

The duo used the Wi-Fi-capable Pico W because “running a fully-fledged computer to turn on a few lights would be overkill,” says Martin. “It needs to connect to the internet, so we [opted for] Pico W. It was the first time we’ve used one and it was surprisingly easy.”

He and Vanessa are always open to suggestions for tweaks – when someone saw the GitHub page and wanted to use it in a school without the Google Calendar link, they were keen to help, “The idea of a classroom getting to see a rainbow at home time was sufficiently appealing to make us refine the code.”

Easy as Pi

One of the great features of the Progress Bar is its relative simplicity, with very little needed in terms of hardware, making it an ideal project for any new makers. “It is a nice little example that involves very little soldering and relatively simple code,” Martin highlights.

Adding a plastic diffuser strip softens and blends the light from the LEDs
Adding a plastic diffuser strip softens and blends the light from the LEDs

He and Vanessa have received highly positive feedback from the maker community – although Martin recalls how one person did declare, ‘imagine hating work so much that you need to keep looking at one of these.’ The pair are pragmatic: “If being pleased it’s home time is a crime, guilty as charged!” They use their Progress Bar every day, highlighting, “There’s a lovely element of it gently reminding you to work and when to down tools for the day.”

The MagPi #128 out NOW!

You can grab the brand-new issue right now from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, WHSmith, and other newsagents, including the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge. You can also get it via our app on Android or iOS.

The cover of the MagPi with the headline "Learn to Code with Python"

You can also subscribe to the print version of The MagPi. Not only do we deliver it globally, but people who sign up to the twelve-month print subscription get a FREE Raspberry Pi Zero Pico W!

3 comments

fdufnews avatar

It would be a good tool if used in meeting room to tell people the meeting is near to end and that it is time to conclude and not to open new cases.

Ashley Whittaker avatar

We could just start playing people off with music like they do at The Oscars.

阿拉斯泰尔 avatar

What a great idea! Unlimited potential applications come to mind. I’m thinking of software build processes or sprint/epic progress from issue-trackers. Time to get an addressable LED strip! 👩🏻‍🔧 Thanks for the write-up/s!

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