Friday, August 24, 2012

The Props

The props are the main event! Lets at where they came from and how they will work this year under our new automated approach.

The props are really where the Thomas Family Halloween came from. We grew up going to Disney and riding The Haunted Mansion. We wanted something that could pop out at you just like the ride.

So we made a piston out of PVC pipe, put a scary mask on the end and BAM pop-up guy. He still scares people every year even though he has been haunting the front yard for about a decade now. Over the years, we have added an opening coffin, a swinging ghost and a screaming clown. All these are based on pneumatic devices running off of a compressor in the garage. We would bring a hose in from the compressor, then you would manually release air out to all the props making them go off when unsuspecting/ already crying children would approach.

This year the props won't change at all! Exciting right? However, instead of pulling hoses into the house, then out of the house, then having to sit at a table to let air into the props we will be using electric air solenoids. These work by letting air in when powered. So all you have to do is connect power and prop goes on, disconnect and prop goes off.

 No more miles and miles of air hoses!

The next challenge is to switch the power on from anywhere you want using a micro-controller and the internet. However, that is another topic.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Challenges

So, here we are. We have decided to activate Halloween prop (or any physical thing) from a phone. Here is what we are facing:

  • 4 props acting independently
  • 2 sound effects (sound attached to props)
  • Music playing separate from sound effects
  • Lighting effects (lights attached to props)
  • House lighting

Not too bad right? This is essentially our setup every year.

Enter automation:

We have to find a way to control the props automatically. In the past we have physically pushed air to make the props go up and down. This year we will have to find a way to do this mechanically.

We then have to find a way to communicate which props we want. Since we want to do this through a phone we have to use Internet Protocol (IP). This means we have to code a program to listen for commands over the internet and activate the props we want. We also have to create an 'App' to send those commands and be dynamic enough to handle changes in IP addresses, Prop name, execution times, ect.

We then have to find a way/create a way to connect all the peripherals to each prop (ie if a ghost pops out it should say "BOO!!!" with lights on it.)

Its not landing a rover on Mars, but it is still a lot for two full-time workers with limited development experience. More detail on the above as they become worked on/complete/abandoned.

Should be a good time!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Future of Halloween

I have been thinking about putting this blog together for a couple weeks now so we are ahead of just starting.  I am still going to try to lay out the posts in milestones so check back often.

 If you know me, you know that my family loves Halloween. If you don't know me then you are in for a treat of random information about a stranger, enjoy. Halloween is a time not only for parties and costumes but also ingenuity. Adam and I always like coming up with new props to build and new ways to interact with them. We love to see the house come together and become a terrifying gauntlet small children must run before being awarded with cheap candy. This year will be no exception! However, the new inventions this year will be behind the scenes. Let me introduce you to ... the future of Halloween:

This is a Netduino Plus micro-controller. It is basically a small computer capable of sending signals off the hardware like lights, motors, ect. The plus version can even connect to the internet and receive commands over IP. Exciting right?

In the past, we have relied on physically letting air into pistons or switching things on and off at the local power supply. That approach led to this:

A large command center, near a window where everyone had to huddle in to take part in the frightening of small children.

Adam and I have taken up the challenge this year to reduce this command center down to this:

That's right! The goal this year will be to put Halloween on an android app and run Halloween from a wireless device. I hope to share the journey from concept to design for those who would like to follow along. I hope you enjoy it!