I started this project a little more than a year ago, but shelved it because it wasn’t working right and I didn’t have the correct components. It was a seasonal project that would have little use over the winter, so I sort of forgot about it.

This year I’ve been going on a lot of bike rides with friends, sometimes on public roadways, sometimes after dark. My bike has a nine watt 500 some odd lumen headlight, which makes it easy to see where I’m going, and definitely makes me visible head on. The tail of my bike however still has the stock reflector, plus the little reflector stripes in my shoes, not exactly high visibility. Not wanting to pale in comparison to the headlight, the taillight is a three watt 140 lumen beast powered by three AA rechargeable batteries.

The light is based on a boost converter from National Semiconductor, the LM3410. I’m using the 525kHz SOT-23 version, the LM3410Y. Originally I had trouble with the chip self destructing, as discussed on the Linear1 forums. It was hypothesized either the inductor was underrated or the diode was too slow. Ordering parts for another project later in 2008, I bought some better inductors and diodes, which more closely resembled the specs of parts used in National’s web bench simulator. So, lacking sufficient rear light, I rekindled this project and have a “working prototype” that’s gone on two rides with me so far.

bike taillight schematic small

The basic function is fairly simple. The 3410 is a constant current boost (step-up) driver. A small inductor is used to ramp up the input voltage, from 3.6vdc nominal to 15.4v at approximately 200mA. The current is monitored by a one ohm resistor. A pair of output capacitors help smooth out the ripple and an input capacitor helps the batteries cope with the high demand current (as high as 1.5a in some cases). I’m using nickle metal hydride batteries, which have a rather low internal resistance – they’re designed for high demand applications and when fresh, barely sag at all under the load.

bike taillight pcb layout small

Originally I had planned on carrying the batteries directly on the PCB, using some through-hole spring clip battery holders I found in the Sparkfun library. However, AA batteries must be bigger in Colorado than they are in Michigan, because using Sparkfun’s layout gave me about a quarter inch gap between the spring and the battery. The pads were also woefully undersized for physically mounting the clip and holding it securely enough to survive the stress of batter insertion and extraction. So I dropped their layout and drew my own that looks exactly like it, but is based on measurements from a real AA battery.

Along for the ride is a Microchip PIC microcontroller, the 12F683. It provides a bit of user interface for the light, creating different blink patterns as well as putting the light into a “stand by” mode, with the switcher shut down. I’ve programmed several blinking patterns, and somewhat organized them into “modes” which I can select using the little button.

A year ago, I didn’t have any sort of enclosure in mind. The led array was assembled on a ‘standard’ sized protoboard, so I probably thought about using a plastic or aluminum prototype enclosure. However, this year, I was thinking it would be a nice fit for a large mint tin. After printing out some mock-ups and messing around with battery configurations, I settled on using three batteries and having the electronics crammed into one side of the tin with the led array mounted in the lid of the tin. This setup might have worked, except for the battery snafu. I’m using a plastic three cell holder right now, and the extra thickness it adds is preventing the lid from completely closing. It closes enough that the light is easily held shut by some big rubberbands, and it survived bouncing around under my seat for two short rides. The next revision will have the battery situation resolved and I might have a better mounting solution by then too.

Overall I’m very pleased with the outcome of this project. I have more parts on order to make a few more lights for my other bikes and friends, and I want to experiment with other array configurations and colors. There are a two videos of the light on my youtube channel, but they’re nothing to get excited about.

Thanks for reading!