Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Flight Suit Project Review

Since building my Flight Suit last year, I haven't posted many photos or videos of the finished suit or of its inner workings, so I will make a series of posts about it over the next few weeks. I would not have been able to complete the project without the generous sharing of the OSHW community, and I hope some bit of my project's details will be of some use to somebody.

All work on the suit revolved around a composite image I put together early to lay out the LED light strips, with each level numbered (0-11) and each segment getting a unique letter designation (A-X). Arms are shown up and down since the suit adapts to the arms' positions, lighting up each segment according to its current level.

From that composite image, I built a segment spreadsheet to keep track of the 22 LED strips through construction and programming. It includes all of the segments' lengths and progress steps, plus designations of levels, segment letters, and channels.

The system's electronic components are distributed throughout the suit (image at right; click to go to Flickr for more notes) using existing fittings on the suit when possible:
  • The 12V Li-ion battery pack which powers the suit fits nicely in the right thigh pocket.  Its switch acts as the main system on/off switch.  Spare battery packs fit in zippered ankle pockets.
  • The main system board sits in the upper left arm pocket: an Arduino-compatible board with a shield containing the left arm accelerometer board and jacks for the right arm accelerometer, MOSFET boards, ZX-Sound, and remote control.
  • The right arm accelerometer sits in a small pocket sewed onto the right upper arm.
  • MOSFET boards hang in the chest pockets, attached to the leads routed through the suit to the LED strips.
  • The ZX-Sound audio board is mounted with Velcro to the included patch on the left chest.
  • The remote control dangles from its cat 5 cable or attaches to an existing Velcro strip at the waist.
I plan to post at least once on each of these topics:
  • System layout, schematics and final firmware
  • LED strips: planning, splitting/making, mounting
  • MOSFET boards: driving the LED strips
  • ZX-Sound: incorporating audio response into the system
  • Arm accelerometers: reading and filtering and controlling segment/level mapping
  • Remote control
  • Main program design: fast looping, modes, ShiftPWM
  • Wearability: marrying the system and the suit, sewing, gluing, maintenance
If there's something else you're curious about, please email me or post a comment. As I post more, I will continue to upload photos to my Flickr set.


  1. Hey Salsa
    Love your flight suit!

    I was at a music and arts festival that had a Masquerade ball one of the nights and part of our costume involved white LED fairy lights (€2 Christmas lights), it got such a good reaction from the crowds that I decided to make an even better costume for the next festival in September. I got an Arduino for Christmas and had yet to use it, so thought this was the perfect opportunity. I come up with an idea very similar to yours. I was searching the net for details on how to do it and found a post you'd made with a link to your blog.

    I'm going to have 8 zones of RGB LED's = 24 channels, so similar complexity to yours. Using RGB LED strips, have ordered 5m each (making 2 costumes, 1 for my wife too). My idea for the costume is to get it to glow moving rainbows without necessarily lighting up the surrounding environment too much, so going to get the voltage down as low as possible. Strips are designed to get 12V+ (common anode). I've got 4 rgb LED's working now on a breadboard with 2 shift registers, seeing how many wires there are, I know now why you got the printed boards done up!

    My question to you is about the battery pack. Did you find that "12V Rechargeable Li-ion battery For CCTV Camera 4500mAh" good? Or in hindsight would something different be better? What sort of life did you get out of it? And what weight was it?

    I'll do an instructable when its all made.


    1. Thanks Dave, the rechargeable battery packs worked great and I recommend them-- go for it, and get some extras. I've bought four different packs from three different vendors, and they're all about the same: three 4.2V Li-polys wired in series, with a charge/protection circuit, all wrapped in thin blue plastic. So they actually charge up to 12.6V. They're *cheap* and there's no charge indicator so good to have a few extras. After a lot of abuse, a solder joint in one of the packs failed but was fixed easy enough. Without a charge indicator I put a label on each saying "CHARGED DEAD" and used a little tab of gaffer tape to keep track of the batteries' charge states: when charged I put the tape under "CHARGED" and then when I had a problem, I moved the tape to "DEAD." I can't think of anything better-- great energy density. There are smaller capacities (still ~12V) available so you could get smaller ones depending on how much power you need.

      I ran my flight suit for 1 to 4 hours on a pack, depending on suit's settings: a few bands lit dimly drew less than a bunch of bands lit brightly. I think the rated capacity was fairly accurate, so you can test how much current the strips draw and then divide the battery capacity by that to figure out how long a pack will last. Using PWM for the strips will also reduce their draw proportionally, which was a key factor in making the batteries last a while. Email me for details of you have more questions, I'm happy to share.

    2. Thanks for the info. I'll put in my order for them now.

  2. Great work! I'd really like to see a video of your suit reacting to music. The test video you posted using while whistling looked really promising, but it would be great to see how it performs along with music. Thanks!