Last week I wrote about revisiting an imaginary childhood with a classic space set that I never owned, the One Man Spaceship 918. While it has brought me great joy, I have had the feeling that it is missing something. Lighting.
While I have written about simple lighting solutions previously, this is likely to need something more complicated. My vision is to provide lighting in the cabin, put running lights under the transparent plates on the thrusters and have lights on the wing tips flashing intermittently.
Over recent years, there have been a number of lighting solutions come onto the market. These feature a microprocessor controller chip, with connections for multiple LEDs. LEDs may be powered by an onboard coin cell or external penlight style AA or AAA batteries. The board itself might be enclosed within a brick sized housing, or the board might be uncovered, but dimensioned such that it can be easily built into your MOC.
A quick word on the ‘purity’ of 3rd party lighting.
Third party solutions for LEGO model lighting have been around for a few years now, allowing for additional detailing and realism to be provided to models. Custom lighting kits for larger sets are even produced. Your final result is limited only by your imagination. And budget.
Are they LEGO products? No. Will model quality lighting ever be produced by the LEGO Group? Highly unlikely, and for several reasons. One lies in the fact that as a toy company, making toys, there are regulatory issues that must be addressed: is this a choking hazard? A strangulation risk? There is a reason power function cables are only available at a certain length. But most importantly, once you put lighting effects into a LEGO model, you are less likely to pull it apart and build something new with it! And this is not necessarily what they are about as a company.
However, as LEGO Bricks have evolved as a modelling medium, people have been searching for ways to make their creations more engaging and realistic. And lighting can certainly do that.
I was sent a board by UCS Innovations, a South Australian based manufacturer for review. The board measures 3 studs by 4 studs, and has 2 holes, which allow it to be held in place by binding to a couple of 1×1 plates. 6 micro LEDs are attached by 15 cm lengths of extremely fine wire. How fine? Pretty well within the levels of tolerance of lego binding: you can run these wires between bricks and under plates with out any problems. In fact, the LEDs will fit under a stud, to allow a transparent plate to be illuminated.
There are a few other features of the board: the user interface consists of an on/off switch, and a small button. Pressing the button during power up advances the program number. Pushing this button while the program is running influences its speed. The board I am using has been designed for city vehicle type projects and includes, amongst other things a program called ‘dump truck’ – 4 steady lights and 2 flashing. This is perfect for my needs today. Before I proceeded with building the board into the model however, I needed to ensure that I was running the correct program. This was simple enough to achieve. All our the lights flash in unison at power up to confirm the poor gram number being run.
One of the great features of the One Man Spaceship 918 is its relative simplicity. There is cabin space behind the pilot that will accomodate the board, and a low part count which means that pulling the model apart and putting it back together again takes very little effort.
I decide to illuminate the front of the cabin with LEDs mounted on top of 1×1 round brick, on either side of the pilot. Fortunately, these LEDs can be threaded through the hole in the top of these bricks, allowing further concealing of the wiring.
To light up the plates on the thrusters, I passed 2 lights out the back of the cabin, into the rear cargo compartment. I then rebuilt the cargo compartments with the minimum amount of wire visible to the thruster lights. I did have some difficulty getting one of the players to fit smoothly over the LED.
For the wing lights, I removed the wing plates, and gently lifted the cabin walls of the plates as bes I could. I took my previously identified flashing lights, and ran the wires along the surface that the wing plates would attach to, and fitted the LEDs under the transparent plates. I replaced the wing plates and powered up.
No longer a static model, you can now feel it approaching a busy spaceport, navigational lights running. I put it into my light box, with the star field alight, and this happened…
I found the board simple to install and setup. The LEDs cannot be removed or easily replaced, but for a simple vehicle configuration this is quite fine. For projects requiring the ability to drive more lights or use larger batteries, UCSi produce the PiChidna.
There are similar products, from other manufacturers that you may well be aware of. Lifelites and Brickstuff would be two of them, and I am sure there are others. Both of these companies offer simple, and more complex lighting options for your models. I am sure they all have their pros and cons.
With regard to the UCSi board I used today, there is no doubt that the exposed board could be improved by being fully enclosed in a case, but this would add unnecessary bulk and make changing the battery difficult. Altering the program, and indeed the speed of the flashing was simple enough, and clearly explained in the instructions. The power switch is small, but gave reasonable tactile feedback as I switched it on and off. I have a few projects coming up that might benefit from similar lighting, and I would be happy to purchase further boards such as this.
It was extremely easy to incorporate this board into the 918 One Man Spaceship model.
How do you feel about including 3rd party lighting into your LEGO Models? Adding life to your models? Making you less likely to refuse your LEGO bricks?
Why not leave a comment below.
Until next time:
Disclosure: The Rambling Brick was provided with a UCS Innovations Pocket Board for review purposes. The opinions and experience described are my own.