Hacking a Cheap LED Lamp with nRF51822


Diwali (or deepavali, the Indian festival of lights) is just around the corner, and in addition to stuffing myself with unhealthy snacks and scaring my kids with firecrackers, it’s also the time to receive cheap LED lamps as gifts. 😉 So I decided to take one apart and make it controllable via a phone – using my favorite Nordic nRF51822 BLE SoC.


Before you read further, you might want to look through some of my previous articles on nRF51822 programming, since we’re going to use similar concepts and development setup here.

Hardware & Connections

This project uses one of the Chinese nRF51822 modules that are available from aliexpress for about 5 USD. In my case, I actually fried the chip in mine, and my friends at ExploreEmbedded helped me replace it with one of the free nRF51422 samples I got with my nRF51-DK board. My previous articles (above) cover programming this board, so I will not repeat the information here.

Here’s what the inside of the lamp looks like:

It’s just 3 x 1.5 V coin cells connected to an LED and a switch under the lamp. The first thing we need to do is reduce the voltage to 3 V by taking out one battery. I used a mutilated Lego piece and some hot glue to reposition the battery contact. The next thing to do is to create some space for the nRF51822 board, for which I had to flip the lid of the lamp.

The nRF51822 is connected as follows:

nRF51822 LED Lamp
VDD + 3V
P0.28 Cathode of LED

The anode of the LED is connected to +3V – so here, we are using the LED in active low mode just the nRF51-DK. You need to set P0.28 to LOW to light the LED. For the connections, we have to solder wires to the annoying 2×9 headers:

Here’s what it looks like all hooked up:

Now, we need to program it.

The Program

The program starts with the usual boilerplate to set up BLE, and then goes on to set up a PWM channel as follows:

  // set up LED
  uint32_t pinLED = 28;

  // 2-channel PWM
  app_pwm_config_t pwm1_cfg =

  pwm1_cfg.pin_polarity[0] = APP_PWM_POLARITY_ACTIVE_LOW;

  /* Initialize and enable PWM. */
  err_code = app_pwm_init(&PWM1,&pwm1_cfg,pwm_ready_callback);

In the above code, pin 28 is setup with an active low PWM signal with a period of 5000 us (200 Hz). Now here is the main loop:

int dir = 1;
int val = 0;
appEvent.pending = false;

  while(1) {

      // PWM stop/start requires some tricks
      // because app_pwm_disable() has a bug.
      // See:
      // https://devzone.nordicsemi.com/question/41179/how-to-stop-pwm-and-set-pin-to-clear/

      // is event flag set?
      if (appEvent.pending) {
          switch(appEvent.event) {

              case eAppEvent_Start:

              case eAppEvent_Stop:

              case eAppEvent_Faster:
                  if (delay > 5) {
                      delay -= 5;

              case eAppEvent_Slower:
                  if( delay < 80) {
                      delay += 5;

          // reset flag
          appEvent.pending = false;

      while (app_pwm_channel_duty_set(&PWM1, 0, val) == NRF_ERROR_BUSY);

      // change direction at edges
      if(val > 99) {
          dir = -1;
      else if (val < 1){
          dir = 1;
      // increment/decrement
      val += dir*2;

      // delay

In the above loop, the PWM duty cycle is changed every step to make the LED “breathe”, and by changing the delay, we can control the rate of breathing.

We use the Nordic UART Service (NUS) to send commands to the chip via BLE. Here, you can see the data structure used for events, and how it’s handled.

// These are based on default values sent by Nordic nRFToolbox app
// Modify as neeeded
#define FORWARD "FastForward"
#define REWIND "Rewind"
#define STOP "Stop"
#define PAUSE "Pause"
#define PLAY "Play"
#define START "Start"
#define END "End"
#define RECORD "Rec"
#define SHUFFLE "Shuffle"

// events
typedef enum _AppEventType {
} AppEventType;

// structure handle pending events
typedef struct _AppEvent
    bool pending;
    AppEventType event;
    int data;
} AppEvent;

AppEvent appEvent;

uint32_t delay = 20;

// Function for handling the data from the Nordic UART Service.
static void nus_data_handler(ble_nus_t * p_nus, uint8_t * p_data,
                             uint16_t length)
    if (strstr((char*)(p_data), REWIND)) {
        appEvent.event = eAppEvent_Slower;
        appEvent.pending = true;
    else if (strstr((char*)(p_data), FORWARD)) {
        appEvent.event = eAppEvent_Faster;
        appEvent.pending = true;
    else if (strstr((char*)(p_data), STOP)) {
        appEvent.event = eAppEvent_Stop;
        appEvent.pending = true;
    else if (strstr((char*)(p_data), PLAY)) {
        appEvent.event = eAppEvent_Start;
        appEvent.pending = true;

The NUS commands are sent using the Nordic nRFToolBox app.

In Action

Here’s the hacked LED Lamp in action:


You can get the complete source code for this project here: