SSF flame effect control nodes

The flame effect system used in Super Street Fire is a ring of 32 flame effects, split up into two inner rails and an outer ring. Participants play the game by wearing motion sensing gloves and throwing punches and other special moves; with each successful gesture, a wave of fire and lights will hurtle towards the other player. The perspective inside the ring looks something like this:

Each effect head has a controller board which operates the fire system, as well as the effect and safety lighting around the protective caps that cover the plumbing. Each cap has a ring of red LEDs that activate when the system is armed, and the caps on the inner rails have blue and green LEDs that correspond to the player activating the flame effect. The control boards are enclosed in plastic containers and buried in the sand to keep them hidden and protect them.

The control system was modeled after the wifire16 solid state relay board, but with a smaller number of outputs, enough to control one flame effect and its safety lighting. The boards have many of the wifire16 features, including full Arduino compatibility, separate system and load power, and reporting back to the microcontroller whether the system is armed. Having one control board per flame effect also meant that the boards could be used to switch AC power to the hot surface igniters from the primary control system.

One of the biggest issues with the SSF v1 installation was that the XBee wireless link was not reliable. To fix this, the new control boards were designed to use a wired RS-485 serial interface. Each board has two RJ-45 connectors for input and output, and a termination header if the board is the last in the chain. The connectors take standard Ethernet cables for ease of setup and reuse.

The assembled control nodes look like this:

The microcontroller system is in the upper left, the four DC channels are on the right, and the AC system is on the lower left. This was my first design using line voltage AC, so there's a pretty wide gap between the AC system and the rest of the board, and the AC system is on a fuse. The boards also have a built-in flame sensor using an infrared LED. We didn't have the time to implement this functionality in our control software, but it may show up in a future release.

The extra control nodes have since been put to use in a few other projects, as wired control of 4 DC / 1 AC systems has been very useful. The four DC channels all have PWM capability, making the board great for controlling 12v RGB LED strips.

I'm sure I'll be reusing this board for future projects, and hope that other people can find it useful as well for fire and lighting control. Future plans for this board include writing DMX-compatible firmware so that they can be attached to existing DMX networks (for lighting control only, please!). A full writeup of the board will be posted soon in the projects section.