I spend a lot of my time developing and performing with LEDs. My company, Fire Pixie Entertainment, offers a really popular LED dance show, with light-up hula hoops, poi, doublestaff, and of course, lots of light up costumes.
The programming behind all these things is a big, big job. I spend hours building, maintaining and choreographing what the lights will do on-stage. Trying to synch up all those different props is a real challenge, when many of them are using different microcontrollers. Infrared remotes have been my go-to in the past, but they’re not very reliable, and they need line-of-sight to work.
I’ve also tried using Bluetooth to control the props, but we perform in very “noisy” environments, bluetooth-speaking.. huge events where everyone’s got their phone out. It makes a difference. There have been times when I’ve been frantically trying to pair my phone with the props right before the show is supposed to start and been unable to do so.
This is Not Professional. My props need to start when the music starts. End of story.
I’ve been working on developing a better way to do this. When I saw John Park’s Remote Effects Trigger Box, I thought this might be one route to go. It uses LoRa packet radio instead of bluetooth or wifi, so there’s no “noise” or huge hassle of setup. It also doesn’t require line-of-sight the way infrared does.
This project comes very close to solving my problem. I built a remote effects trigger box with a NeoTrellis inside which will control any and all of my props or costumes that contain a Feather M0 LoRa microcontroller. I can now hand the box to my tech and he can make all our costume bits change colors or react or start a script at the same time. It’s like magic!!
It’s got its limitations. Interrupts can be a bitch when it comes to LED animations… NeoPixels don’t have a separate clock line so animations that are running tend to stutter if the microcontroller is also busy “listening” for a command. My code skillz are not quite up to solving this problem. But this project is a huge step towards what I’m going for! I envision an LED light show where all the props and costumes can be controlled wirelessly in real time by an artist offstage. She’ll be able to react to the music and what the performers are doing. Won’t that be magical?
For now, it’s not quite to the level I want, but it does work SO much better than infrared or bluetooth. It’s a huge step forward. I absolutely love it anyhow. 🙂
Here’s the tutorial! It’s a massive build, so not for the feint-of-heart. Please build your own, improve the code and response time, and help me move this technology forward!