Sunday, July 17, 2011

LED (F)Light Suit: Ramping Up

I've been mesmerized by bouncing red LED's since the early '80s. LED's were mostly red, needle-style VU meters were on the outs, we hadn't yet graduated to green-yellow-red meters, and I grew a special place in my heart for those bouncing red lights. We also had KITT and the Cylons: bouncing red lights were and still are awesome ("rad" had not been invented yet).

I put together a black flight suit with red EL-wire segments for Burning Man in 2008 but did not have time to build the sequencer and control system I envisioned, so it was an on/off affair, or it pulsated to the music before the small batteries died.

Working on a suit for this year's burn, I've decided to return to the original concept-- red LED's-- and am working on the major areas now:
  • Suit electronics: Arduino core, I2C port expander w/PWM output using PCA9685 16-channel, 12-bit PWM I2C-bus LED controller driving power MOSFETs, one per segment. There are 17 segments in my design, so I'll use the port expander and then another spare pin to trigger the 17th channel.
  • Audio metering: I have a MaceTech Shifty VU shield working but I wonder about adjusting levels on the fly, and how to best get a mic input to it or something similar. There will be other modes for sequencing the lights, but bouncing VU meter is the primary mode I'm looking for.
  • Segment planning: location and length of each segment, power lead routing, attachment to suit. This is going well, with the first seven (of 22) segments cut and tested last night from my first 5M strip from DealExtreme; the suit will need 53' of light strip so I've ordered more.
  • Power: rechargable 12V power packs are easy to get; not sure how to recharge them on the Playa.
  • Remote control: would like to have a small, wireless remote to control modes and mode parameters.
  • The program: I have a list of modes I'd like to switch between, some of which have parameters I'll want to adjust on the fly. Ideally I'll be able to edit the program during the day if I come up with new ideas while I'm in BRC.

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