Josh (the blog)

Hey there. I’m Josh, a SydneyCanberra-based maker of Internets. I don’t update this very often.


@joahua

JABOB

Did some party lighting for Ellen’s 18th last Thursday night. Just a bunch of balloons… with a twist. (Click for enlarged)

Balloons with LED illumination

Yes, the twist is that they glow. Good times.

Not quite bright enough to provide useful illumination, but enough to be intrinsically interesting & entertaining.

I was concerned about battery life holding out: I should have been concerned about getting larger-capacity balloons in order to achieve the buoyancy required. The balloons we had (all 11″ metallic) all flew initially, when inflated to absolute-max capacity, but most of them were down within 5 hours. 14″ balloons probably would’ve performed a lot better, but we’ll never know.

We also polished off a CL tank (rated for 50 balloons) about two balloons from the end of the lot, so bigger circumference would obviously require a D tank.

Future enhancements: size, obviously; different LED housing for wider light; magnetic/RFID switching on LEDs (we were flicking them on at inflate time); and increased brightness to make them more effective as lighting, not just entertainment.

The direction I’d ultimately like to take it is non-latex/heavy-duty inflatables with permanently installed LEDs + wireless controller. At present it’s a tri-colour LED that automatically cycles between the three sub-diodes (I suppose they’re three real diodes, but whatever) that are RGB. I’d like to separate that out into three 10k MCD diodes (for a peak 30k MCD output at ‘white’) and a rechargeable supply… not quite sure what the best way to do that is. The inflatable would probably be about 15” with the luminaire (ideally) suspended in its centre so it could be used as a non-lighter-than-air device and maintain its effectiveness as a light. Think really big beach balls.

I’m looking at getting a prefab Bluetooth thing with an onboard microcontroller to manage it… would also like to add a microphone in to make it audio-responsive without wireless intervention (because wireless will suck lots more power, amongst other things). Bluetooth would be utilised primarily for fading the fixtures in and out rather than colour control, though obviously once one is in place it’s only a small step to introduce discreet faders for each colour channel.

All that said, I know nothing much about Bluetooth. I’m looking at a Class 1 prefab board with a microcontroller which looks good, but is rather uncharitably priced at 79€ per unit, and the only published unit discount step is a measly 2€ at 10 units. That’d make the cost of these little monsters (controller, LEDs, power, whatever funky kind of container I find for all of the things) at least AU$250/fixture after funding development, which does seem like an awful lot! But if they’re rechargeable and can fly and stuff I think there’s a possibility other people would buy them. On Thursday night a lot of people were pretty fascinated by them, even when they ended up on the floor.

Methinks I’ll try and build a couple for myself before even thinking about selling them, and if that comes close to happening look at other wireless options. I’m picturing something cool like walking around a room with 100 of these things flown on the ceiling (either tethered together or helium filled) holding a Bluetooth-capable PDA, the lights following you position. Processor-intensive signal-strength calculations would be done on the PDA itself, which would arrange the signals in a matrix and detect the nearest neighbour, setting its intensity (and the intensity of the surrounding signals) accordingly. There are other options, perhaps involving W-DMX512, but that’d require a separate microcontroller methinks.

Funnily enough, when looking through the wireless DMX catalogue for this year, it turns out the LD for Cirque du Soleil Delirium did basically the exact same thing (Wireless DMX + colour mixing RGB LEDs + 15” balloon)! Page 20 has an OEM TRX module in a 84x48mm form factor, but it requires an existing DMX interface. There’s an integrated device on page 15 that has a battery enclosed also and supports PoE, but it’s a bit bigger (115x40x70mm) and similarly lacks the onboard microcontroller that the Bluetooth device has.

The W-DMX might be better on power consumption, though, on account of the possibility of receive-only mode that Bluetooth lacks (though, of course, you can disable visibility on Bluetooth devices, which might assist). Both technologies use 2.4GHz spectrum, which is pretty much all fun and unlicensed games.

Possibly more to come on this front if I can track down a suitable container. I can shop for geek gear fairly effectively, but oversized pieces of latex are a bit less my thing.

Comments re: ideas, criticism, etc., all quite welcome!