Want a Prize? Keep Reading…

Ladies and gentlemen, waldos and robots:

We have been buzzing about this a bit in recent days, and now we’re ready to
announce what exactly Trinculo the Robot was yappin’ about on his Twitter page.
The fine folks here at Trinculo’s Attic are excited to announce our first
FACEBOOK PHOTO CONTEST. *cheers from audience*

The rules are extremely simple, we promise:

  • Take or find a photograph of a prop, practical, or costume that you built in the past that incorporates electronics in an interesting way.  All electronics are OK – it doesn’t have to be embedded, and it does not have to use our products!
  • Send the photo to hello@trinculosattic.com by Thursday, July 19th. We’ll post all the entries on our Facebook wall and open up voting the next day.
  • Tell all your friends to go to our Facebook page and “Like” your photo between Friday, July 20th and Thursday, July 26th.

Whoever gets the most “Likes” on their picture will receive…(drum roll please)…

A $25 Trinculo’s Attic gift certificate, good for anything in our online store

Get your cameras out, find those old electronics (make sure to include a description of the item so people know what they are “liking”), and be on your way to an extra $25 that you can spend on your next production. We all know that every dollar counts. If you have any questions about how the contest will work, don’t hesitate to ask.

Keep checking us out on Twitter and Facebook to get the latest details on the contest, plus other electronics- and robot-related news:

Follow :: @TrinculosAttic
Follow :: @TrinculoRobot
Like :: Trinculo’s Attic Facebook Page

Best of luck to all contestants!

Progressive Assembly: Behind the Scenes

Today we officially launch The Capulet (wireless DC dimmer), a small unit that wirelessly controls 6 DC dimming channels, powered by anything from a 3.7V single cell LiPo battery to a 12V brick of 8 AA batteries. We produced the above video, in collaboration with Geeksdanz, to show off a little of what it can do.

Go watch the video if you haven’t already, and then continue below for the spoilers and technical details of how we made it happen.

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Show Business Has Its Ups and Downs…

We were contacted about two weeks ago about doing an “Elevator-controlled video switcher”. Here’s the initial inquiry: “we have an elevator at an event… we want to play one file when it’s going up and then a second when it’s going down…”

Of course, the first question is: Can someone push a button? No. Can we hook into the elevator controls? No. Not even a little? No. They had three ceiling-mounted video screens, and it was up to us to find a way to sense when the elevator was moving, and in which direction, and then trigger the appropriate video.

The end result looked like this:

We built a standalone video player that hooked into custom built position sensors to tell us where the elevator was. When the elevator went up, it played one video file, when it went down, it played another, and it had splash screens at each floor while idle. Our logic allowed us to tweak the configuration on-site, and we even added functionality on the fly.

The final effect was pretty magical: as the elevator started to move up, the first video played. 5 seconds after it arrived at the second floor, the video crossfaded to a splash screen. As soon as the elevator started its trip down, the second video played, and again 5 seconds after arrival, the video crossfaded to the splash screen. Nobody had to remember to do anything: the elevator’s own movement was triggering the video.

More (much more) after the break.
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Custom Stuff: Contact Closure to DMX

A client contacted me who was connecting through Pittsburgh en route to Paris: he was teaching at CMU for a couple days, so there was a window for me to hand something off.

He had been planning on having (5) RS232-controlled projector dowsers on this show, but the shop changed it to DMX-controlled dowsers. He had a Meyer D-Mitri GPIO box, which got him (6) contact closures.

While there are certainly other options (Plan A is actually to use an RS232 to DMX converter, provided by the shop), he wanted a dead-simple Plan B.

So we took an Arduino Uno and a Guildenstern DMX Shield, and made something that looks like this:


We wrote a simple program that pulls the lines 2-7 high and watches for them to go low. The client then wires the GPIO contact closures to connect these lines to Ground (0V). As the relays in the D-Mitri GPIO close, the DMX Shield switches between two separate positions. The client was comfortable with a little programming, so rather that needing a hardware interface to change end points or addresses, he has the source code and just recompiles and flashes the Arduino with the new code.

Download the code here!

Trinculo’s Attic Showcases New Products at USITT

Trinculo’s Attic will be introducing the latest additions to their line of theatrical electronics at USITT in Long Beach, CA this week. Visitors to Table #20 will be able to browse Ben Peoples’ new book Embedded Electronics for Theatre and see the company’s Juliet Candle and Lady M Phone Ringer in action. Books will be available for sale at the show, and as a show special, Trinculo’s Attic is offering free shipping on all product orders over $25 placed at USITT.

The new products being introduced are:

The Rosencrantz DMX Master Controller (MSRP $35)
A master controller that allows control of all Trinculo’s Attic devices from a single light board.

The Guildenstern Arduino DMX Shield (MSRP $20-$25)
A shield that attaches to an Arduino to input and output DMX signals. This add-on is intended for those who already have an Arduino, but wish to interface to DMX systems. The shield comes in both a full and mini versions.

The Stephano MIDI interface (MSRP $20)
A shield that attaches to an Arduino to input MIDI signals. This add-on is intended for those who already have an Arduino, but wish to interface to MIDI systems.

The Caliban Servo Controller (MSRP $50)
A dedicated controller designed for controlling up to three RC servos. These can be used as simple actuators for things such as projector dowsers, mobile props, and lever/latch releases within devices. The controller has knobs to adjust the end points of each servo’s travel and can be controlled via DMX or MIDI with an add-on module.

These other products that will also be demonstrated at the show:

The Lady M Phone Ringer (MSRP $75)
Rings any traditional analog or digital phone. The Guildenstern Mini and Stephano add-on boards allow for optional control via DMX or MIDI.

The Juliet Candle (MSRP $25)
A small, integrated LED candle module that simulates the natural flicker of a candle. The candle is programmable through the use of optional add-on modules to modify the way the candle flickers, provide remote control or allow the candle to react to its environment.

Embedded Electronics for Theatre ($39.95)
An indispensable resource for integrating miniature technology into theatrical props and practicals, this 248-page book introduces theory and design of electronic circuits and basic programming skills and provides an “electronics cookbook” of recipes for building specific circuits.

We’ll be at Table #20. Stop by, check out our goodies, and get your photo taken in a goofy jester’s hat. We’d love to see you!

MIDI-controlled RGBLED with the Stephano and a FIO

Update: the links to our shop won’t work at the moment, sorry! We’re still setting that up for launch a little later in the week.

The Arduino Fio is a neat little board — it’s compact, has onboard LiPo battery charger, making it ideal for small portable devices. It also has an onboard Xbee socket for wireless connectivity.

The Stephano is a MIDI interface board designed for connecting small Arduinos (like the Fio) to a MIDI control signal. It consists of simply a MIDI DIN-5 connector, an opto-isolator, and a little bit of support electronics. The opto-isolator protects both the Arduino (from electrical issues on the MIDI loop) and protects the MIDI devices from wiring issues on the Arduino-side.

This basic circuit attaches the Stephano to the FTDI port on the Fio, and an RGB LED to pins 9, 10, and 11, which support hardware PWM control, letting you very simply dim them.

Arduino comes with a very nice MIDI library, but you have to download it separately, here.

Evan’s demo program can be downloaded here.

And here’s a little demo video!

Press Release: Trinculo’s Attic Releases New Book

Embedded Electronics for Theatre, the new 240-page book by Trinculo’s Attic founder Ben Peoples, is now available for purchase! The book provides the basic knowledge and tools for theater professionals to immediately begin applying the newest innovations in programmable miniature electronics to their own production situations.

Topics covered include robotics, lighting and sensors, with detailed information on the hardware and software needed to create an endless array of production solutions. Links to additional information on the website greatly expand the content, offering pre-programmed solutions to many common problems.

Available in hard copy at a retail cost of $39.95, Embedded Electronics for Theatre is also being offered as an ebook at a limited time introductory price of $15. Check the Trinculo’s Attic Facebook page for a coupon offering an additional $5 discount on the ebook. Ebook purchasers will also receive free updates for one year and be eligible for a $10 discount on their future purchase of the print edition of the book.

Embedded Electronics for Theatre is the textbook for Trinculo’s Attic’s Theatrical Electronics Workshops. Spaces are still available in several of these 1-day intensive workshops, being held at various locations around the country. Workshop attendees receive both the book and a Starter Kit of electronic components worth $150. For a limited time, the Starter Kit and Book can be purchased together for $175.

Trinculo’s Attic founder and book author Ben Peoples has worked with Disney Creative Entertainment, Cirque du Soleil, Paramount Theme Parks and Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Ben was Assistant Technical Director at the California Shakespeare Theatre and has designed lighting for Ray of Light Theatre in San Francisco and Starlight Productions in Pittsburgh. Ben became interested in embedded electronics in 2006 and founded Trinculo’s Attic in the summer of 2011. Since then, Ben has taught workshops, created numerous theatrical electronics applications, and consulted on the design of electronically-enhanced props for multiple professional theatre productions.

Embedded Electronics for Theatre
Author: Ben Peoples
Released: February, 2012
Print Edition: $39.95, plus shipping
Ebook: $15 introductory price; $30 after February 17, 2012

USITT 2012: Long Beach

I am happy to announce that Trinculo’s Attic will be exhibiting at USITT in Long Beach!

We’re at Table #20, which is right next to Perdue University and directly across from the Society of Props Artisan Managers.   We’ll have all of our products on display for you to play with, many available for purchase, and you’ll be able to chat with us in person about whatever problems you may be trying to solve.

Update: if you need a free pass to USITT 2012 stage expo (not the educational events, just the stage expo), you can use this link with the Stage Expo Pass Code TA20 to register for free.

See you in Long Beach!

PR: Trinculo’s Attic Announces Winter Workshop Schedule

Recent innovations in programmable miniature electronics offer a world of exciting possibilities for the theatre industry. The major hurdle to incorporating these innovations is the need among theater professionals for a basic understanding of the technology and its uses.  Addressing this issue, Trinculo’s Attic, a theatrical electronics firm providing support and educational resources to the entertainment industry, is launching its first round of Theatrical Electronics Workshops.The 1-day intensive workshops provide the basic knowledge and tools for theater professionals to immediately begin applying these new technologies to their own unique circumstances.  Each workshop covers the use of embedded electronics in three distinct areas:  Robotics, making props and practicals move on demand, Sensors, making things react to the world around them, and Lighting, covering both the new technology available and how to power and control it within a production.

Workshop leader Ben Peoples is the author of Embedded Electronics for Theater.  He has worked with Disney Creative Entertainment, Cirque du Soleil, Paramount Theme Parks and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  Ben was Assistant Technical Director at the California Shakespeare Theatre and has designed lighting for Ray of Light Theatre in San Francisco and Starlight Productions in Pittsburgh.  Ben became interested in embedded electronics in 2006, initially creating camera controllers and electrical test equipment for theatre consultants.  He then began exploring the possibilities of embedded electronics for theatre use and founded Trinculo’s Attic in the summer of 2011.  Since then, Ben has taught workshops, created numerous theatrical electronics applications, and consulted on the design of electronically-enhanced props for multiple professional theatre productions.

Tickets for all Winter/Spring 2012 Workshops are available now.  Workshop locations and dates are:

New York City February 12th, Atlantic Theatre Company
Chicago February 26th, Hilton Suites – Chicago/Magnificent Mile
San Francisco Bay Area March 11th, Hilton – San Francisco Airport
Long Beach/Los Angeles April 1st, Hyatt Regency – Long Beach

NOTE: The Long Beach workshop is the day after USITT for the convenience of USITT attendees, but is not affiliated with that event.

Workshop admission is $450/person and includes a copy of Embedded Electronics for Theatre and a Trinculo’s Attic Starter Kit, $150 in electronics to take home at the end of the session.  Each workshop is limited to 30 people.  No previous electronics experience is required and no soldering is involved.

Summer/Fall 2012 workshop dates are currently in the works.  For larger companies and those unable to attend a workshop, in-house seminars can be scheduled.  Additional Kits and books are both available for purchase at the Trinculo’s Attic website.

More information is available at the Trinculo’s Attic website: www.trinculosattic.com
Contact: trinculo@birdbrainlabs.com
Birdbrain Labs LLC, PO Box 81672, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

Developing the Trinculo’s Attic Juliet Candle

Next week, Trinculo’s Attic launches our first in-house developed product. We’re calling it the Juliet Candle*. It’s a tiny 1/2″ diameter board with an LED mounted atop it.

The first prototype was a bit bigger (although skinnier):

Scale may be hard to grasp, but the LED is about 5mm (1/4″) wide, the overall board is 3/8″ wide. This has all the parts the final board has on it, but is a bit easier to program, since it has a standard programming port on it.

The LED is connected, via resistor, to one of the PWM ports on the board. This allows us to very easily set the brightness of this LED, since we’re simply writing a value to a register instead of trying to manually turn the LED on and off.

We’d previously implemented LED candles with three LEDs. One LED is kept on, the other two flicker randomly on different frequencies, causing the light output to be nice and flickery. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t look very much like a real candle. Side by side with a real candle, it’s far too consistent. We set about doing some studies about what different candles really do. We set up this little rig:

This is a little circuit that measures the brightness of a candle, on about 1000 samples per second, and outputs the data into the computer. It’s built using an Arduino, one resistor, and a CdS photocell with a bit of blackwrap around it to mask other light. We put another piece of blackwrap behind the candle to give us a very strong signal. Here’s what we found:

The dataset is dense, but we found that candles tend to float around to different levels, with periods of relative calm and periods of heavy flickering. We also discovered that the candle flicker had a “resonance frequency” of around 5Hz when it was flickering, while it’s amplitude changed throughout:

We mulled around different ways of implementing this in software. We considered using Fourier Transforms to dig out the overlapping frequency data. On a walk up to get some coffee, one of our team (Sarah) said “Why not just play back the data?”

Turns out that works, and amazingly well. We resampled and normalized the data (bringing it down to about 50 frames per second). We found we had two basic modes of operation: high flicker (a pillar candle) and low flicker (a tea light). The tea light actually was incredibly steady, but we took a segment of the data in which a lot was going on, since a theatrical candle needs to be a little dramatic. The tea light is the first graph above, the pillar candle is the second.

After proving the concept on the first prototype board, we then shrunk it. We decided a round board would be nice, since you can fit it into things designed to take a candle, or into a candle itself. The smallest board you can fit the microcontroller on is a 1/2″ diameter circle. We might have been able to shrink it a tiny bit more, but the size was nice. We had the boards produced really thin — 0.020″ instead of the standard 0.0625″, and with a black soldermask instead of a green one. The finished board is pictured above, and in plan view below (with a standard tea light for size reference):

So now we have a lovely little candle. The LED circuit uses one of six available pins, so there are 5 pins on the microcontroller available. The simplest use is that one of the pins can be tied to ground, which will switch the candle from low-flicker into high-flicker mode. This serves as a really simple way to change up how the candle reacts.

The second use is that the microcontroller can read analog voltages, so we’ve implemented two more things (which will be shipping shortly after the candle does):

  • Light detector: the candle will go out when in darkness. This allows you a basic way to turn off the candles in a blackout.
  • Motion detector: when left alone, the candle will be in low flicker mode. When moved, the candle will shift into high flicker mode. Multiple candles can be wired together to a single motion detector, allowing you to control a whole candelabra from a single motion detector

Using LEDs and microcontrollers also reduces our power needs. Any 3V-3.6V power supply can be used, including two AAA batteries, a single lithium coin cell, or an AC adapter. Each candle pulls 50mA, and we can supply an AC adapter that’ll run up to 20 of them with no problem.

Look for the big announcement next week: the first in our Thing-A-Week product launches between now and USITT in March. (They won’t be quite Thing-A-Week, but pretty close).

* “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” — R&J, Act II, Sc 2.