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Flux Capacitor Electronics

Controlling the Lights


Can you say "ARRR-DWEE-NO"? I control the Flux Capacitor with a widely available micro-controller called the Arduino (Arr-Dwee-No). The Arduino is "an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It's intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments."I have experience programming other micro-controllers like the Oopic and the Basic Stamp, but wanted to try something new and different. Why get so fancy and complicated with a micro-controller you ask? Well, first it will give me infinite control over the lighting sequence. I'll be able to tweak the light sequence in any number of ways to get the proper look.

Here's a few other ideas I am thinking I can do with the Arduino.

  • RF Remote control to turn the unit on/off.
  • Changing the light sequence when you hit the magic 88 MPH (or at the push of the remote's button).
  • Ambient light sensor to adjust the brightness according to the lights in the room.
  • Proximity sensor to activate the 88 MPH mode when a person is near.

The Arduino is priced under $30 so you can't go wrong. It's about 3 in. x 3 in so it will fit nicely inside the Flux Capacitor. This pictures also shows the prototype "wings" attached. They have small screw terminals that are easy to attach wire too while prototyping.

You can also see the USB cable attached. The cable is used for programming but not necessary once the Arduino is programmed.


The small RF Transceiver module (<1 inch square) will be interfaced directly to the Arduino micro-controller I/O pins. The RF module communicates with the RF Remote Key Fob below. You program the Arduino to talk to the RF module and make sense of the signals you receive.


This is the RF Remote Key Fob I purchased to control the Flux Capacitor.


4/6/15 UPDATE

- In the process of planning my Second Flux Capacitor build, I became aware that the Sparkfun RF Remote I used for my first FC was no longer available. Sparkfun did not seem to have a decent replacement so I took to the net looking for another option. While searching, I remembered a few of the issues (hassles) that I had with the first RF Remote. While in the end, it worked out, it was not without some struggle.Be sure ot check out my second FC build here.

Schematics

I use Eagle Layout Editor to create the electrical schematic. You'll need some understanding of the electronics to know what is going on. I was familiar with a few micro-controllers and I wanted to try out the Arduino in a project. This seems like a good one to start with. They are really cheap ($30) and have many add on circuits that have been developed for the hobbyist. This schematic is meant to show you how I controlled my Flux Capacitor and it not necessarily the only way.


Click on the schematic for a closer look.

UPDATE 4/6/15: I've decided to change the circuit/schematic for my second Flux Capacitor. I'm switching to an LED matrix circuit to give me additional control over the lighting effects. The circuit I used for my first Flux Capacitor, only allowed me to control the corresponding LED in each row. So if I want to light an LED, the same LED lights in each light bar (the columns). That limits the different patterns I can make. By using an LED Matrix IC each individual LED. I envision a mode that looks like a spinning blade, where I turn on all of the LEDs in one light bar, then lighting up the next bar, rotating either clockwise or counter clockwise. I am working on an updated schematic and will post it as soon as it's done. So, for now, the schematic below is accurate only for my original Flux Capacitor. Check out my Second Flux Capacitor progress here.

Duemilanove vs. Uno- Part 1

For my second Flux Capacitor, I purchased another Arduino micro-controller. They've come out with a newer version called the Arduino Uno. That means "One" in Italian.

Now the last one I purchased was the Arduino Duemilanove, which means "2009". like a good Italian wine, I guess they like to date the vintage.


I'm not quite sure what is different but it's still about the same price, has the same footprint and all the same output pins. Sounded like I was in business.


I purchased the same "Transceiver nRF24L01+ Module with Chip Antenna" module and compatible remote key fob. I also purchased a new version of the Arduino ProtoScrewShield to put on top. It provides convenient place to wire things up. You can hard wire the final design or you can do like I did and just leave the shield on in the final assembly.

Now all the info on the new Arduino Uno says it is compatible with older versions and will run the same programs as the previous Duemilove version.Ah, not so much!

I needed a newer version of the Arduino Software (Arduino 0022) so that it would recognize the new Uno board. That was the first hint that is was not going to go smoothly. When I recompiled the code, there were errors. It seems that there were some changes to a standard library. The Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) library change from when I used the last version of the Arduino software. So I corrected that reference and moved on. I complied the code and uploaded it to the Arduino Uno.

Nothing happened. Well, almost nothing. Two of my lights lit up and remained on. I pressed some buttons on the remote key fob, but still nothing. At first I thought I had a bad RF Module or Key fob. It seems that if I bypassed the RF Module code, the lights would begin the normal fluxing mode. When the RF module code was entered, everything came to a stop. Not only was it not communicating with the module, it was hanging the whole program. I did some digging on the internet and found others that are having the same problem with the RF module and the new Arduino Uno as I was.


If you don't mind waiting 7-10 days to recieve your Arduino, BangGood has a great deal (less than $25 and that includes shipping) on an Arduino Starters Kit and it's dirt cheap. Check it out.

Duemilanove vs. Uno- Part 2

So I did what most good electrical engineers would do while troubleshooting, I fell back to a configuration that I knew worked. But that meant purchasing the older Arduino Duemilanove model. Fortunately for me, they are still available and I even found them a few dollars cheaper through a vendor on Amazon. I expect these will be available for some time.

As I was hoping, I attached the ProtoScrewShield to the Arduino Duemilanove board, loaded the code and everything works as it did with my first Flux Capacitor. A few clarifications. I had to use the older version of the Arduino Software (version 0018) as it was set up to use the older version of the Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) library. I believe there is a conflict between the newer Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) library needed for the newer Arduino Uno board causing my RF Remote module not to work. Either that or the MiRF Library needed to support the RF module needs to be tweaked to support the Uno.

Either way, I think I'll settle on using the Adruino Duemilanove for this Flux Capacitor and save the Arduino Uno for my next project, which will not require an RF Remote control. It's a Burroughs B205 Computer Console. Check it out.

-----> 4/6/15 UPDATE <-----

- In the process of planning my Second Flux Capacitor build, I became aware that the Sparkfun RF Remote I used for my first FC was no longer available. Sparkfun did not seem to have a decent replacement so I took to the net looking for another option. While searching, I remembered a few of the issues (hassles) that I had with the first RF Remote. While in the end, it worked out, it was not without some struggle.Be sure ot check out my second FC build here. It looks like I may end up using the Arduino Uno after all!

Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi

Sometime after I started work on my second flux capacitor, I became aware of the Raspberry Pi, a new entry into the micro controller world. At first the raspberry Pi seems like overkill for what I would need it to do.
It is advertised as a "credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard." Now that's probably more than I need as all I need to do is flash some lights. But I love the thought that my Flux Capacitor could do so much more.


For now, I'm sticking with my trusty Arduino, but I'll be thinking about using the Raspberry Pi in my next project, the Burroughs B205 Computer Console.


If you are leaning towards the Arduino, as I did, Check out BangGood for a hell of a deal. BangGood For less than $25 (and that includes shipping) you can get a complete Arduino Starters Kit which includes all kinds of extra stuff. Check it out.