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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hello All, I have been playing with some various Arduino projects over the last few months, so I thought it was time to share one with the community. This project is a four channel prop controller with MP3 sound that can be built by pretty much anyone for about $20 using readily available parts. Probably the most technical skill required is the ability to make about 20 solder joints for the required pin headers. The other skill involved is patience- to wait for the parts in the mail as they make that slow boat from China trip to your mailbox.

This project is called FourBanger for lack of a better name. It uses either an Arduino Nano or Mini Pro as its foundation. The example I use in the video below is the Nano. This would be a good choice for a beginner, as programming a Mini using a TTL converter could be a tutorial in and of itself. The main thing you want to look for in a Nano or Mini is that it uses an AT328p processor and is a 5v model (not 3.3v). The FourBanger has variable resolution which allows for shorter sequences of high resolution, or long sequences of low resolution. Here are the available resolutions in FPS (frames per second) and their corresponding maximum length:
25 FPS = 1:18
20 FPS = 1:38
10 FPS = 3:16
5 FPS = 6:32
The default is set to 20 FPS which allows for over a minute and a half of recording time.

I have compiled some parts into a sort of shopping list HERE.
The latest version of the software download can always be found HERE

This is the general idea as far as pin numbers go (Nano version):


This is the entire thing once wired looks something like this:

With Audio, PIR, Relays, and optional button programmer. The small form factor allows the entire thing to fit inside a small enclosure such as a Hammond 1591-G:

This is a screenshot of the Windows PC based programming interface:



There is a bunch more info on the website mentioned in the video. I am in the process of assembling some more documentation, but that is tedious stuff... I have a few more projects like this, so I am sort of testing the water with this one. If it works out and others find it useful, I will be happy to share more info.

This project was inspired by other great DIY controllers and commercial controllers such as:
Halstaff & Tstraub's picaxe controllers
Jason Tatum's MonsterShield
FrightProps PicoBoo, BooBox, and Director application
Monster Guts
etc...
I merely made my own flavor, using the parts I had available.

If you have any questions, please fire away.
Also, if anyone decides to take the plunge and sees any glaring holes in what instructions I have assembled, please tell me.

Thanks, Mike
 

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Definitely interested here.

I will be following this project with great interest as I am in need of one or more prop controllers. The price point is great.

Thanks for sharing your hard work with us!
 

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OK, first question.

The e-bay image of the Nano appears to show male headers already present. However, in your image it seems that you either removed the male headers or they did not come pre-soldered. Your image shows the male headers on the opposite side of the board from the e-bay image and also most are not present.

I don't see any male headers listed in the parts list.

Can you clarify the disposition of the male headers?

Thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Hey Jason, Thanks for the kind feedback. If you watch the youtube video in the first post, there is a portion of it at the beginning dedicated to the pins and headers I used. I did only use a portion of the pins. I made the one in the pictures with the pins facing upward so that the bottom of the Arduino would be mostly flat. That would allow for the board to be adhered to the bottom of an enclosure with a few dobs of silicone.

Yes, these boards come with the headers not soldered. That allows you to hook it up however you like (male, female header, hardwired, etc). The 8 pin female header that I added was done at an angle because I thought it might be nice to have it sticking out of a slot in the side of an enclosure. That female header can be seen more in this video that I made about manually programming it:


I am just kind of playing with the designs at this point and have actually tried a number of header arrangements. I literally have a shoebox full of Arduinos, so the prototypes are starting to pile up.
I'll try to mount the Nano from the pics above into a small enclosure sometime in the next few days & take a pic or two.

Thanks, Mike
 

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Thanks for the reply. I guess I should have watched the video. I jumped right to the written documentation.

Fantastic stuff there.

Keep it coming!
 

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MikkoJay,
I just want to say "Holy Crap!" I've been wanting to figure out something like this for a long time, because arduino clones are just so cheap. I picked up 10 arduino pro minis a while back on Ebay for $12 shipped! They came in at 3.3V though instead of 5V. But I've probably got 20 arduino boards in some shape or form.

I can't wait to build this. I still haven't been able to mess with the Catalex board to see if I could poll it and read that it was playing a file. I may be contacting you again when I can get back to it. I have had the board playing a file at my desk at work for over a month continuously. Very robust MP3 player, thanks for introducing me to them.

I've always thought Arduino boards have always been underrated for something like this, you're a great asset to the haunt and Arduino community. Thanks for sharing!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Hey thanks for the vote of confidence DarkOne! I totally agree about the Mini & Nano clones being perfect for these things. Cheap, tons of pins, 1k onboard eeprom, tons of tutorials and sample code, a huge following of people who can answer questions, and did I say cheap??? I just put a freshly tweaked copy of the PC APP out there tonight. If anyone wants to check it out, there is no reason you cannot run the app even if you do not have an Arduino. The app just needs a Windows PC with the .Net framework v 3.5 or greater. I'm looking forward to seeing people make some cool stuff!

Thanks, Mike
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I still haven't been able to mess with the Catalex board to see if I could poll it and read that it was playing a file.
One more little note about this- Since this little project just uses a background track and a scare track, I use the Catalex command that "loops a track" for the background track, then I use the "single play" command for the scare track. That way, the perpetual loop does not even need to poll to see whether or not the ambient file is playing. It just plays over and over.
-Mike
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
Enclosure

I snapped a few pics as I assembled this prototype into a Hammond 1591-G enclosure.


I used tacky glue and folded some thin packing foam under the relay module to keep the non-screwed side solid & flat.

The thicker red/black pigtail wires are to supply the relays with 12v if desired.

Case closed. The blue PIR / Trigger terminal is affixed with Super Glue. It seems to be holding solid.

Mini-USB for programming via the PC or uploading custom firmware

The Hammond 1591-G turned out to be a perfect fit for this project. I hoard these boxes when I can get 'em for a smoking price.
-Mike
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks Halstaff! Here is a link to the seller I bought mine from. BUT please try this first- right now he has only individual boxes listed for 5.99. When I bought mine, I got them from the same vendor for 9.99 for 5x boxes. The shipping for 5 was $5.36 + $2 for each additional item. That way, you could buy 2 lots of 5 for less than $30, making the boxes less than $3 each shipped. Here is a link to the listing I bought from. I would message the seller and ask if they could make you that deal. It would definitely save a few bucks.
Thanks, Mike
 

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I have been talking to Mikkojay about this project and some thoughts about how to use his controller for my electric chair project. He was kind enough to shoot me some parts for testing. Today I took some time to hook it up and test out some pre-set programming.

Everything worked very well. When I have some more time, I will program in my own sequence and report back. I have played with Mikkojay's program and the interface seems very intuitive and easy to use. Some quick video is below. The first sequence uses the button board from his video to activate the action. The second sequence uses an arcade-style button to activate the action. I quickly rigged up a light to test the second relay. You can hear the third relay clicking, but I don't have anything to connect to that at the moment.

Good job, Mikkojay, and thanks for sharing this project!


Stanley approves!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Looks good Jason- I can't wait to see how the custom programming goes. It looks like Stanley is in good hands!
-Mike
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Flyback Diode

I ran into the need for a flyback diode when I connected a 12v solenoid to this controller for the first time, so I thought I would take a minute to explain the problem I encountered and what I did to correct it.

Problem: When running a sequence with nothing connected, the relays clicked away no problems. When I connected a 12v air solenoid to the number 1 relay (shared 12v with the microcontroller) I noticed that when the solenoid engaged for the first time everything worked- but when it went through the first on-to-off cycle, the microcontroller would reset.

What was happening: Since the solenoid is an inductive load (essentially a big coil), the on-to-off power cycle causes the electrical field to collapse over the coil, which in turn creates an induced power spike. I am not an engineer by far- so I will defer to the Wikipedia article
.

Solution: I added a 1n4007 diode at the relay contacts, similar to "D" in this diagram:

Were it a more permanent wiring job, I would place the diode as close as possible to the solenoid. After adding the 2 cent 2n4007, things worked great and the reset problem was completely solved. Also, from what I read, using a diode across inductive loads in this fashion will prolong the life span of your relay contacts. I certainly looks like 2 cents well spent.

One last note, if I had used a separate adapter for the solenoid, added more power filtration between the adapter and the microcontroller, or used an A/C solenoid, I would likely have not had this issue. I just like the convenience of being able to run 12v solenoids and the microcontroller from a single adapter to keep the parts count down.

I just thought I would throw this out as a consideration if anyone ever encounters these symptoms.

Thanks, Mike
 

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I had a chance to program the controller with my own sequence and everything went fine. I was able to upload to the arduino with the provided software without issue.

New video of the test of my sequence. Again, just using two of the relays for now.

 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Cool man- that light flickering out reminds me of the movies when the juice to the chair is such a draw that the lights in the building go dim for a second. You know the old fixtures with a tin shade and a cage around the bulb?
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
How involved is it to add channels to this to make it an 8 or 12 or 16 or....banger?
As it sets, this particular project just did the 4 because I wanted to be able to manually program with a button board. The drawback to that is that it hogs up pins. I have another version that does 8 TTL pins and 4 PWM pins & uses I2C eeproms for added sequence storage. That project is still under construction though.

I added the source code for the this Arduino sketch in the zip file I linked to, so really that could be copied and turned into whatever someone could dream up. You could also use 2 or more of these i/o expanders for about $4.50 each. You could add them as needed, up to a max of 8 modules (64 total pins).

Like others before, the TTL outputs in this project use 1 bit per recorded "state", and there are 8 bits in a byte. The next thing would be to figure out how you want to store all those state data bytes, and how you plan to organize them into a useable sequence. The more outputs you have, the more state data you need to store, sequence and choreograph.

I looked through my parts pile and did remember that I had a couple of these. They are 16 bit i2c expanders. You have me thinking that adding support for these in the next project would be worthwhile :) I would likely do it in a modular fashion, so that they could be added in 8 or 16 bit modules with a configurable address. I'll have to add that to the queue, after I get done playing with the DMX output...

-Mike
 
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